Former Shaolin monk Li Peng Zhang makes his feature film debut with this action-drama that focuses more as a fish out of water story than a martial arts action film.
Li Long is a former Shaolin monk who has left the temple upon hearing the news that his brother has died. He heads to New York City, where he has become the guardian of his nephew Michael. While he lacks the basic household skills of cooking and cleaning, he is quite a martial artist.
He runs into an old friend and former student, Dave, who suggests that Li opens a kung fu school. Li likes the idea and he and Dave become partners in the new school. While Li teaches martial arts, he slowly learns to adapt to life in a world he has never seen before, thanks to the assistance of social worker Sarah. However, one night, Dave invites Li to watch an underground fight ring and when Li sees the champion just pummeling people, he stops the chaos. His actions have now gotten Li’s life as well as those around him in danger with the people who run the fight ring, the Russian mafia.
It is always interesting to see some new talent in films and Li Peng Zhang is no exception. A former Shaolin monk, Zhang wanted to become a filmmaker and set up his own production company, Shaolin Film Productions. For his film debut, Zhang has directed, co-written, executive produced, and was one of two choreographers. What many hardcore fans will find noteworthy is that this film is not really a big martial arts action film, but rather a dramatic tale of a Shaolin monk adjusting to life in a world he has never truly experienced.
While the acting is quite subpar, only due to the fact that the cast are all virtual newcomers and local actors, it doesn’t take away the “fish out of water” story. There are some funny bits in the film including Li and nephew Michael constantly distracting each other to put food on each other’s plates. Another flaw in the film, give or take, is the character of a bumbling police officer who resorts to using stereotypical words towards Li after the monk uses his skills to stop two robbers from entering his brother’s house. Some may find the fact that Li is called a “ninja” at one point offensive, but that is based on the opinion of the viewer.
There aren’t that many fights in the film, but when they do finally come, they are a mixed bag. The first few fights prove to be a bit of a disappointment as they suffer from that old familiar problem of close up shots and quick cutting. However, as the film progresses, the fights tend to look a little better, relying more on medium and long shots rather than the Bourne-style editing. With the improvement in the editing of the fight scenes, one can credit fight choreographers Xiaoyu Jiao and the star of the film for using Shaolin Kung fu with just a dash of wire enhancements in the fight scenes.
Don’t expect anything extravagant from The Last Kung Fu Monk. However, for a debut film, it is not a bad film in general. Li Peng Zhang definitely is a talented fighter and does decently for his film debut. He is definitely one to look out for.
WFG RATING: B
A Shaolin Film Productions Film in association with Hot Bagels Entertainment. Directors: Li Peng Zhang. Producers: Sun Hongxi and Jason Stein. Writers: Li Peng Zhang and Todd McGorry. Cinematography: Bernard Hunt.
Cast: Li Peng Zhang, Major Curda, Justin Morck, Kristen Dougherty, Johan Karlberg, Li Bing Lei.