Thursday, 25 August 2011
Directed by: Benny Chan
Written by: Alan Yuen, Chi Kwong Cheung, Quiyu Wang, Kam Cheong Chan, Cheung Tan
Starring: Andy Lau, Nicholas Tse, Fan Bingbing, Wu Jing, Xin Xin Xiong, Jackie Chan
Blockbuster kung fu doesn’t come much more enjoyable than Benny Chan’s Shaolin: a big, slick epic that features some of the best kung fu action around. Andy Lau plays the powerful General Hou Jie who in the early years of the Chinese Republic is pushing his army ever forward in order to conquer as much land as possible. When his plans to eliminate another powerful warlord backfire, with his young daughter slain in the crossfire and his sworn brother Cao (Tse) betraying him, Jie escapes to a nearby Shaolin temple. Despite having earlier threatened the lives of the monks, they accept him into their ranks. Here Jie rehabilitates himself, comes to see there is more to life than war mongering and learns martial arts under the tutelage of the monks
It is a somewhat predictable story in terms of a once bad man now learning to be good through the loss he has endured and learning to fight back against those who betrayed him. But thanks to some impeccable production values, tight direction and all the actors performing at the top of their game (both in the dramatic and action departments), Shaolin is a corking kung fu flick. Benny Chan has always been good at delivering blockbuster Hong Kong action (Who Am I, New police Story, Invisible Target) and gets to show a more dramatic side with this film. Sure, there is still the requisite amount of bombast and some incredible kung fu but the film gives ample time to the kindly monks and their way of life and how Jie comes to be part of their extended family. So it might not be a serious or meditative look at the life and training of the Shaolin monk but the film is a welcome slice of old fashioned storytelling told on a grand scale.
Lau is his usual solid self, Nicholas Tse (The Beast Stalker) is positively vile as Jie’s duplicitous right hand man (though perhaps a little over-the-top compared to the rest of the film) and there is quality support from Wu Jing (who unfortunately just doesn’t get to fight enough) and the megastar himself, Jackie Chan. Despite only having a supporting role he plays a bigger part than you might think and, yes, gets his own fight scene as well. And it’s a doozy.
The action and fight scenes are top notch, partly overseen by martial arts legend Cory Yuen (Fong Sai Yuk). The kung fu is sharp and slick, the choreography tight, featuring just the right amount of wirework to enhance some of the confrontations: not least the wicked battle that sees Jie being betrayed involving a horde of soldiers brandishing giant axes. Benny Chan can’t quite get away from his love of all things blowing up and the flick features some epic explosions and destruction that could give Michael Bay a run for his money.
It might not always be subtle but Shaolin is still a well-made blockbusting period action film that shows modern kung fu films (even when set in the past) still have a lot to offer.