Blazing Temple (1976)

Directed by
Another telling of a classic Shaolin story
Reviewed by Simon on 2024-05-05

Yongzheng emperor learns that the monks of Shaolin Temple are collaborating with rebels plotting to end his tyranny and sends troops to destroy the temple. A few monks escape and hide out in the mountains plotting revenge... but there may be a traitor amongst them.

It's a familiar story, told numerous times - Joseph Kuo wasn't the first or the last director to tackle it.

The film begins almost exactly where RETURN OF THE 18 BRONZEMEN ends - though since that film is told almost entirely in flashback, that's also where it begins. It's hard to find definitive data but I think THE BLAZING TEMPLE was released after The 18 Bronzemen but before Return Of. The Bronzemen make a brief cameo appearance, with the director apparently feeling no need to explain their existence - suggesting they had already been introduced. However, Carter Wong is still in a supporting role, suggesting his star hadn't yet risen.

There isn't really a clear lead here though - Chang Yi's character is perhaps a little more central than any other, but he's still not exactly the main focal point. Despite having top billing Chia Ling is hardly in the film at all, only appearing in a few scenes at the start and for literally seconds at the very end.

I was quite scathing of this film when I reviewed it in 2001, but I didn't have a lot of experience with martial arts films from this era to compare it with then (this was before the Shaw Brothers catalogue was remastered, and most of what was available was dubbed and cropped indie kung fu). Now that I'm older and wiser I can appreciate the film more in its context... but still conclude that it's pretty "mid".

The story doesn't offer any great insights into the human condition, the cinematography and art direction are fine but generic, and there isn't enough action to carry the film with those limitations. It does end with a banger of a final fight though, with Carter Wong going beast mode amidst a furious brawl between the monks and the emperor's retinue. Slim pickings, but worth the price of admission.

It doesn't provide anything like the showcase of his skills as Return Of The 18 Bronzemen... which is the other main reason to think that film came later. It would make sense - Return starts almost exactly like The Blazing Temple but then turns into a prequel where both Wong and the Bronzemen are given a better showcase, realising the missed potential in two earlier films.