Shaolin Review and Trailer

I’m not going to lie; I only asked to review this film because I thought it had something to do with The Wu-Tang Clan. As it turns out I was mistaken. And what a wonderful mistake it was. For with all do respect to RZA, GZA, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, and Ol’ Dirty Bastard, this movie was captivating in a way that a hip-hop film could never be. That having been said, it’s hard to know where to start heaping the praise, since this film succeeds on so many levels. I guess I’ll just start at the bottom and work my way up from there.

I’ve always felt that the backbone of any good film is the writing. It’s easy to hire a gaggle of computer geeks to create CGI that’ll blow the audience’s mind, but if the audience can’t stay awake throughout the entire film because of the inane dialogue than what’s the point. And yes, I’m talking to you James Cameron. And that’s the foremost reason Saolin is such an amazing film: it simply has great writing. It is subtle and poetic when it needs to be, and at other times it is intense and brutal.

But this movie is also visually stunning, which can be attributed to the direction of Benny Chan and the production design of Yee Chung-Man. Both men have been in the movie-making business for a while now, and yet I can only imagine that this collaboration is their finest work to date. If nothing else, it must certainly be their most ambitious, as they undertook the momentous chore of replicating the actual Shaolin Temple. This was the first time in Chinese film history that a real-life replica was built to scale for any movie. A massive undertaking, indeed. And a massive success, as well. I was drawn instantly into a world that was not my own, a world of feuding warlords and noble monks and hidden temples.

The acting is also superb, and only helped to heighten the overall cinematic experience. And although everyone in the film was outstanding, I felt as though there were two actors in particular whose roles helped to create the emotional depth the film needed to rise above the genre of action epic: Andy Lau and Jackie Chan. Andy Lau plays Hou Jie, a general for one of the top warlords, who loses his family after falling into an enemy trap, and who then finds peace and forgiveness at the Shaolin Temple. Jackie Chan’s role is a small one, and yet is needed to give the film a touch of warmth and humor that it otherwise would have lacked. He plays Wu Dao, a cooking monk with a weird but loveable temperament and a noble heart.

What else can I say about this movie? What other elements have I forgotten to praise? Oh yea! Duh! The martial arts! Are you kidding me? The fight scenes in this film are just flat-out badass! I don’t know enough about filmmaking or kung fu to describe why they work so well, so instead I’ll just describe them in another way. Take a burlap sac, and put in it a copy of The Last Samurai, Enter the Dragon, Braveheart, andCrouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Now take that burlap sac and hit yourself across the face with it about a dozen times. Do you feel that? Are you awake now? Good. Because that’s what victory feels like. And that’s what this movie is: victorious! I give it four stars, and I highly recommend it to everyone.

Shaolin opens in San Francisco at The 4-Star (2200 Clement Street) Friday, September 9th. The San Francisco Film Society will then be screening Shaolin at SFFS New People Cinemas (1746 Post Street) on Wednesday, September 28th and Thursday, September 29th.  Don’t miss this one!

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