HAVOC AT BAMBOO MONASTERY, Hong Kong Arts Festival, City Hall Concert Hall IT'S good to see that the House of Cantonese Opera has revived and revised Havoc at Bamboo Monastery (or Fighting with the Monks), which has not been performed by any troupe in the territory for 30 years. Although full of well-choreographed action sequences, this Arts Festival feature, the original version of which runs to seven hours or so, does not belong to the repertoire of mainstream operatic works. But like other Cantonese operas at past art festivals, this four-hour revised version has one major attraction which opera lovers will find hard to resist - a strong, all-star cast. Havoc at Bamboo Monastery has brought together Yau Sing-po, Law Kar-ying, Yuen Siu-fai, Nam Fung, Chan Kar-ming, Choi Kei-lun, Lui Hung-kwong and Leung Siu-sum. The new adaptation was developed from the adventures of Lui Bu and Diu Sim in The Story of the Three Kingdoms. It's a tragic tale of palace intrigue in which the emperor's wicked uncle Dong Ho tries to take the throne. When the royal uncle eventually murders the emperor, elder statesmen Wong Won sends his adopted daughter Chau Sim to seduce the emperor's adopted son Cheung Fung-sin and convince him to work for Wong. After the emperor's death, the cunning uncle continues to persecute Prince Chiu Yue, the emperor's son, but Cheung, from a desire to see justice done, tries to help him out. Librettist So Yung has successfully injected the ancient script of this traditional suite drama with popular songs and acrobatics. He also has given a Cantonese flavour to the original northern sound of suite drama (hoi to) popular in the late Qing Dynasty. When it comes to singing, Law Kar-ying never disappoints, even though his rather hoarse vocals are not as resonant as the other actors'. His operatic acting, though, is still the best. Law's role as Cheung Fung-sin in The First Night of the Wedding is impressive, but slightly showy and exaggerated. (This may have something to do with his active involvement these days in the movie scene.) Law is supported by another Cantonese opera veteran, Nam Fung, whose striking make-up and superb voice mesmerised her fans. It is a pity that, of the eight scenes, she appears only in the second and third. Veteran Yau sing-po and Yuen Siu-fai are excellent as the laundry actors in the fifth scene, Suffering in the Snow. As their characters Wong Won and Chiu Yue fight the cold in the wilderness, their shivering bodies send chills right into the hearts of the audience. Havoc at Bamboo Monastery came to a rather hasty ending, leaving the audience wondering about the relevance of this scene to the main story. In the finale Law, fighting the monks, combined his best northern and southern acting and acrobatics (Peking and Canton action styles). Some opera lovers might have wondered whether this less popular work chosen by the Art Festival would live up to the success of last year's pick, Farewell My Concubine, an all-time favourite in Cantonese opera. But judging from the audience's hearty response, it has indeed reached such heights. A strong performance overall from a dazzling cast.