Stars: Andy Lau, Nicolas Tse, Jackie Chan, Wu Jing, Fan Bingbing, Yu Hai, Xiong Xinxin | Written by Alan Yuen | Action Director Corey Yuen | Directed by Benny Chan
Review by Baron Fortnightly
China’s last imperial Dynasty has fallen and a ruthless warlord (Andy Lau) amasses a vast fortune through the violent subjugation of his people. Faced with a brutal betrayal, he runs for his life, seeking redemption in the fabled Shaolin Temple. When his enemies discover his location, he must stand with his new brothers and fight his lifes greatest battle…
Shaolin, also known as The New Shaolin Temple, is a 2011 film directed by Benny Chan (New Police Story, Gen X Cops) and an updated version of the 1982 classic and Jet Li’s film debut, The Shaolin Temple. I’ve seen a lot of films recently that whilst watchable have been lacking that certain something that makes them really enjoyable; Shaolin broke this streak of lacklustre movies. It is a perfect mix of story, character development, action and entertainment, and probably Andy Lau’s and Benny Chan’s best film.
Andy Lau is perfectly cast as Hou Jie, a chinese warlord who subjugates the little people in his rise to power, he’s brutal and unlikeable, trusting few and disregarding most others. The other people he cares about are his wife, daughter and oldest senior Jingneng, who he considers a brother. After a shocking betrayal that leaves many of his loved ones dead he ends up on the run and seeking sanctuary form the Shaolin monks. This is where he meets mad monk and temple cook Wudao, played brilliantly and very subtly by martial art movie legend Jackie Chan.
I consider the role of Hou Jie to be one of Andy Lau’s best performances, thanks in part to the story by Alan Yuen and direction of Benny Chan, he takes the character through the gamut of emotions, from indifference to anger, from grief to depression, from acceptance to forgiveness. His performance really shows that no villain considers themselves to be the villain. This is also true of Nicholas Tse (Gen X Cops), who has less of a journey as Cao Man, Hou’s second-in-command who can do no right, but his journey is equally as valid despite being shorter. In fact there is almost a handing off from the old guard to the young guard in the casting of Lau and Tse in Shaolin, especially as both are singers as well as actors (Lau even performs the theme song, Wu).
Most times you see “special appearance by Jackie Chan” you can expect him to pop in and out of a scene like a jack-in-the-box, but in Shaolin, Chan has quite a sizeable role, with his own character arc, motivations, and influence on the main story. A great role for Chan, and an early look at Jackie Chan the “actor” and not just “slapstick martial artist”.
I have nothing negative to say about Shaolin, it’s a great movie, full of soul and with a very focused 2 hour storyline. It’s perfectly balanced and reminds me somewhat of the Once Upon A Time In China series. Extras in this 2 disc set include another great audio commentary by Hong Kong Cinema expert Bey Logan, 9 making of featurettes, 15 interviews, and 20 behind the scenes featurettes. Audio options include both a Mandarin 5.1 and English 5.1 soundtrack.