Satyr Monks (Ping Shek, 1994) -- Movie Review

It’s fairly safe to say that I wanted to see Satyr Monks more for the presence of the late Wang Qun than for the promise of erotic content. Wang starred in a handful of films from the eighties era of mainland Chinese martial arts films like Revengence Superlady (Yang Qitian and Chun Chuantao, 1986) as well as the blatant Once Upon a Time in China rip-off, Fist from Shaolin (Martin Lau and Zhang Xinyan, 1993), always showcasing impressive martial arts and a professional enthusiasm, if not actual talent for acting. He only acted in a few movies and he died early in 2008. The few reviews of Satyr Monks on the internet contradict on the point of whether it is an erotic film, but given my experiences with certain Cat III movies, I find such content can either make a bad movie worse or an entertaining movie into an entertaining smutty movie.

Satyr Monks is indeed an erotic film, or at least the version on a Hong Kong VCD that I watched is. It’s actually not as simple as a statement of fact, as the version I watched had the same dubious honor as many a Thai and Pinoy cop flick; Satyr Monks is an older kung fu movie spliced with extra footage in the same manner that Godfrey Ho used to do with uncompleted (and sometimes complete) martial arts movies from South Korea, as well as the previously mentioned Thai and Pilipino movies. Now, Godfrey Ho, Joseph Lai, and Thomas Tang had nothing to do with the current condition of Satyr Monks -- as evidenced by the lack of ninjas or Richard Harrison -- but the sexual content is clearly not the work of the original crew, if for no other reason than it looks so absolutely different in terms of visual style, costuming, and just general quality.

The movie starts with a corrupt monk and his entourage looking around for women to sex up. He intends to increase his power by doing it with 108 women, whether they’re willing or not. Eventually, a swordswoman in red (Nadeki Fujumi) confronts the cadre of pervy clergy with wire work, colored smoke bombs, and some threatening postures with her sword.

At this point, I immediately think that this is a soft-core version of Temple of the Red Lotus, either the old novel that inspired so many wuxia films over the years, or perhaps the films inspired from that old novel were the critical impetus for the direction Satyr Monks takes. (The Pearl Cheung version is great, as many of her films certainly are) The fake Buddhist monks who rape women and bully peasants and the swordswoman in red are major players in that story, and so it was only a matter of time before the young man and young woman enter the story to set about the destruction of the Red Lotus Temple and the killing of all those nasty fake monks.

So imagine my consternation when the movie seems to switch channels on me and I’m watching a fairly down to earth kung fu flick from mid-eighties mainland China where Wang Qun is punching people in the face in a restaurant brawl. It’s a pretty impressive scene, and the effect of Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung’s films clearly seems to have reached whoever directed this part of Satyr Monks, as several stuntmen take dangerous fall without the slightest bit of padding or safety restraint. It’s also notable that the villains in this film also appear to be monks, or at least dress as monks, perhaps echoing the ambivalence (some would say hostility) displayed towards Buddhism in other mainland Chinese kung fu movies, particularly Arhats in Fury (Wong Singlui, 1985) and to a lesser extent, Shaolin Temple, (Zhang Xinyan, 1982) better known as Jet Li’s debut feature.

And just as one might expect after such an abrupt shift in visuals and tone, Satyr Monks changes the channel back to the other movie, where the perverted monk is once again in engaging in sex, this time with a pair of women. It eventually goes back to the more enjoyable movie, where we finally see Wang Qun’s female counterpart, and they attempt to escape from a group of thugs, at least a few of whom wear button downs and ties. Further betraying the cut-and-splice nature of the film, the older kung fu movie is set in the early twentieth century, the Republic, while the costuming and setting of the soft-core scenes at least looks Ming Dynasty era. When the film goes back to the sleaze, a couple of the nasty monk’s kidnapped women are pleasuring each other, and another joins, and another, and I tried hard not to fast forward through the surprisingly boring scene. Yeah, Satyr Monks actually contains a boring orgy scene.

The rest of the non-erotic content includes a brief training scene with Wang Qun and his lady friend learning from an old master and the final scene, shots of Nadeki Fujumi’s swordswoman looking along inserted in a half-hearted attempt to tie her killing of the perverted monks from the sex scenes in with kung fu movie, which just happens to have people fighting other people dressed as monks who are offhandedly said to have raped in the past by one of the other characters. Lots of killing; some nice choreography in spots.

I don’t really know what to make of a soft-core Temple of the Red Lotus movie, especially when it isn’t even an actual Temple of the Red Lotus movie. Kung fu movies are often said to be pornographic in their depiction of violence, which really seems to be the case when it’s actually juxtaposed with extended footage of people pantomiming sex. As with many Cat III movies, there will be some who enjoy the inanity of this low-budget, sleazy excuse for genre entertainment. Even with Wang Qun and fight scenes that are actually more fun to watch than the badly filmed, badly performed sex scenes, I can muster little fondness for Satyr Monks.

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