Can the Shaolin spirit be captured in Benny Chan’s film?
Based loosely off of Jet Li’s Shaolin Temple, Shaolin attempts to capture the essence and spirit of the Shaolin way. Benny Chan ensured that he had the star power to handle the task, casting Nicholas Tse and Andy Lau in the lead roles. However, Benny didn’t stop there, casting Wu Jing and Xing Yu as monks while having Jackie play a guest role as well.
Shaolin has a lot working against it when it comes to story and characters. The tale of an arrogant man that is humbled through tragedy is one that’s been done many times over, yet Shaolin manages to break free of this rather quickly. Andy Lau does a great job showing the transformation of General Hou Jie and making it (mostly) believable. I did feel that Lau’s evolution from arrogant General to Zen monk was really fast, but given the time constraints, I can’t complain much. In fact, there are over 40 minutes of delteed scenes, so some stuff had to be cut. It’s hard to know the exactly how much time passes in the film as well, it could be a month or a year for all I know. Overall, the story is equal parts heartbreaking and uplifting, creating a very impressive tale.
Playing the main villain, Nicholas Tse knocks it out of the park. His transformation is just as dramatic as Lau’s, allowing him to become a truly twisted and demented individual. At the same time, it is interesting for the audience to know what drove him to that state in the first place. The other actors don’t stand out as much, but each of the monks have their own personalities and quirks. I did feel that the abbot was a little too accepting at times while Fan Bingbing probably wouldn’t have forgiven Lau so quicklly . Overall, the characters to a great job portraying real people with real emotions.
Corey Yuen was in charge of the action in Shaolin, and that worried me a bit initally. Thankfully, the action is very well done, sticking to the source material and letting the audience see how things pan out. One thing I admired was that the monks were not supersoldiers. The battles felt real and you could see the genuine stuggle in some of these sequences. While there is some wirework, it never takes over and or makes things hard to believe.
Additionally, Wu Jing and Xing Yu had some great fights as well. I enjoyed watching them on screen and it was refreshing to see Wu Jing not be the “badass” character he usually has to play. Of course, Andy Lau and Nicholas Tse were the two headliners, and they did a fantastic job with the choreography. Both of them fought very well, and I enjoyed Tse’s “dirty tactics” that he used while fighting to show another level of his character. Everybody got their moment to shine in Shaolin, and there was not a fight I didn’t enjoy.
Own it, Watch it, or Skip it
Shaolin suffers because of the oversaturation of the period films in the market. There are still the very evil foreigners as well as a strong message about China. At this point, I guess I just have to accept those traits, and it shouldn’t keep people from watching this film. The strong story and compelling characters give Shaolin the advantage it needs to stand out from the rest. With great action to impact the story, anyone who enjoys movies will find something to like about Shaolin.
(I would also like to point out that Netflix users can stream Shaolin, but it’s still worth a buy in my book.)