Thursday, December 15, 2011

Shaolin (2011)

Title: Shaolin (2011)

Director: Benny Chan

Cast: Andy Lau, Jackie Chan


Ever seen one of those really cheep Kung Fu movies? I mean ultra cheap stuff like The Crippled Masters (1979)? Those movies can be a hell of a lot fun to watch, but their budgetary restraints betray them sometimes. These movies are filled with good Kung Fu action, but are also usually accompanied by bad acting, cheap sets and fake backgrounds. Shaolin, the film I’ll be reviewing today, is the complete opposite of that; its one big, expensive, epic Kung Fu movie! Last time I saw an Asian movie of this magnitude was The Curse of the Golden Flower (2006), one of my favorite Chinese movies ever. It’s just so damn epic and beautiful to look at; to top things off, Chow Yun Fat steals the show as Emperor Ping! Highly recommend that one if you haven’t already seen it. But back to the topic at hand, Shaolin (a.k.a. The New Shaolin Temple) is somewhere along the lines of Curse of the Golden Flower in terms of quality and scale. It’s big, it’s epic, and it’s emotional, and has awesome Kung Fu action!  

 Shaolin tells the story of an Evil Warlord named General Hou Jie. He is fighting against other warlords in China, taking over lands and all that. He has an enormous army that obeys his every whim and desire. Opposite General Hou are the monks of the Shaolin Temple. If you know anything about Shaolin Monks, then you know that they are all about peace, and helping their fellow man. At heart, Shaolin Monks are portrayed as humanitarians in many films. They also train in martial arts a.k.a. Kung Fu, but this does not mean that they are violent people. They will do everything in their power to avoid violence and fighting. Their purpose in life is to help others, no matter their political or religious background. To the Shaolin Monks, a human is a human, and we should all help each other because it is their belief that all life is sacred. The real problem comes when the Shaolin Monks begin to aid enemies of General Hou Jie, who arrive at the temple looking for a helping hand. General Hou sees this as an act of treason and invades the temple, looking to give the Shaolin Monks a lesson. Will the monks change their ways? Will General Hou ever learn the value of human life?

 So I loved this movie for many reasons, first of which is that it takes the evil Warlord and shows him some humility. Sometimes governments can act cold and cruelly towards their people. Since they are so high up, “the people” are nothing but a workforce to them, a side note in their all important powerful lives. The people are the “little people”. Their pleads, not to be heard. And should anyone oppose, well, they die. But what would happen if the selfish and powerful political leader where to trade places with the people he rules over? What if he was to loose all his power, and taught a thing or two about what it means to work for your food, to suffer poverty, to care for your fellow man? What if they were taught somehow to be humble and caring instead of cold and greedy? These are the questions that this film asks and answers and I loved that about Shaolin. It’s the kind of movie that speaks for the people. It reminded me in many ways of Takashi Miike’s recent 13Assassins (2011), in which the Samurais gang up to bring the evil ruler to his knees. In 13 Assassins the Samurais speak with the tyrant face to face, letting him know all the mistakes his made while in government. In Shaolin, the greedy government is humbled down.

 Aside from that, there’s the Shaolin Temple, which is a wonder all on its own. I’ve always liked the idea of the Shaolin Temple a lot because it’s this magical place where love, humility, respect and selflessness is taught. But the Shaolin Temple does not train cowards; the monks also train in martial arts, for if their peaceful way of life is ever threatened, well then a good ass kicking is on your way. It’s a fantastic idea, the Shaolin Temple is a place where you can live a good, peaceful life, where you can find food and shelter, not unlike some churches of the world. The Shaolin Monks worship their god in peace and care for their fellow man. I respect that. I can see why the government of those days would hate the Shaolin Temple. The Shaolin way of life was always in discordance with the evil Warlords that governed in those days. Those Warlords only cared about conquering, killing and destroying anything in their path. So the monks of the temple and their governments where always in contrast with each other; one side loves and respects life, while the other seeks to destroy it. There are some really tense moments in this movie, when the Warlord invades the temple that are awesome! The monks literally  protect their way life with their advanced Kung-Fu skills! Some of the monks go no their own personal Robin Hood like quest and deside to become bandits in the name of the people. Stealing or “borrowing” from the rich to give to the poor.

The production values for this movie were really good! They didn’t use the real Shaolin Temples because they didn’t want to damage them while making the film so they did the next best thing, they built their own Shaolin Temple! The sets on this movie are pretty impressive; I love it when they go all out like that. Same thing happened with Curse of the Golden Flower where they built these amazingly expensive sets. Chinese filmmakers have that about them; they really go all out with their movies, when they have the funding for it, they really give it their all to make a special film, and this is a fine example of that. Also, they don’t skimp on running time for their films; this is not the first Chinese film I see that lasts more than two hours! But honestly, I didn’t care how long it was because ultimately I was devouring everything I was seeing on screen.  

Jackie Chan makes an appearance in this movie as the cook of the Shaolin Temple, he plays more than just a cameo, but his character was obviously kind of tacked onto the film to attract more people into the seats, the movie could have easily moved on without his character. But, Chan does this a lot, he makes small appearances in films. On Shaolin he plays a cook who’s never left the Shaolin Temple, but has desires to go out and see the world, yet he hesitates in doing it. I liked the idea behind his character. This is a guy who’s been doing the samething all his life, and now he is aching to go out and see the world. This character spoke about breaking with a comfort zone and going out and doing what you’ve always wanted to do with your life, so it’s kind of like a side story, but it’s a good one. Still, Chan has his chance to Kung Fu fight in one sequences that is inventive and entertaining, Chan uses cooking techniques to fight against the invading army!

 This film was a huge money maker all over China, it premiered number one at the box office in Hong Kong and broke box office records in Malaysia. The film was directed by Benny Chan, the same director behind Jackie Chan’s New Police Story (2004), a explosion filled action film that I highly recommend, actually New Police Story has one of the biggest explosions I’ve ever seen on any movie! Ever! Recommend that one if your in the mood for some high octane action. I was not aware of this when I watched it, but Shaolin is a remake of a Jet Li film called The Shaolin Temple (1982), which by the way was Jet Li’s debut role, I’ve never seen that one, but now I’m looking for it. This version stars Andy Lau, one of China’s biggest movie stars in the role of General Hou Jie. Bottom line with Shaolin is that it’s lavish and emotional and action packed: highly recommend this must-see Kun Fu blockbuster!

Rating: 5 out of 5  


George Beremov [Nebular] said...

OMG, I enjoyed every single minute of this marvellously-crafted martial arts flick. I saw it back in February, and it's still my favorite movie of the year so far.
So glad you gave it 5 stars! :)

Franco Macabro said...

Well, it deserved it! It was so well made I couldnt help myself. I'm looking forward to making it a permanent part of my Kung Fu collection. Thanks for commenting Nebular!


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