新少林寺 (2011)

Reviewed by: j.crawford
Date: 03/08/2013
Summary: Strong Casting makes Strong Film

Strong casting works to help big time action movie director Benny Chan spin a new take on the Shaolin Temple story made famous by the 1982 Jet Li film. This film is more fictionalized and draws some poignant dramatic plot points to the screen. At times, the film is over the top; and at times, suspension of disbelief is challanged. Production values are very high quality in all aspects of the process. Put some extra butter on the popcorn and let the light wash over you.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: Gaijin84
Date: 12/19/2011
Summary: A bit of a let down...

Shaolin is another historical martial arts epic starring Andy Lau and Nicholas Tse. This time the setting is turn of the century (?) mainland China during civil wars that are dividing the country. Andy Lau (General Hou Jie) and his right hand man Nick Tse (Cao Man) chase a wounded general into the Shaolin temple where they dispatch with him after a brief skirmish with the monks. Later, after double dealings and betrayals, Hou finds himself back at the temple begging for the monk’s assistance in saving his young daughter’s life. Hou ultimately becomes a fugitive and hides out in the temple, eventually capitulating to their beliefs and training in their fighting style. Cao, who has turned even more ruthless and greedy, comes looking for Hou in order to eliminate his mentor and complete his ascension to power. Can Hou and the monks repel the modern weapons and moral depravity of Cao?

I was a bit disappointed with Shaolin after completing it. The acting is good (except for the guy playing the foreign general), the sets are fantastic and the special effects (i.e. explosions and destruction) are on par with anything you’d see from Hollywood. Given the people involved though, I felt that I should have been more impressed. One of the main reasons that people would see this firm is the martial arts. Unfortunately, the team of Corey Yuen, Yuen Tak and Nicky Li seem to have taken a step back in terms of realism. The wire work is extensive here, and almost reaches the point of utter fantasy in some scenes (re: Jackie’s fight using the giant wok). The dynamic Jacky Wu feels underused in favor of the powerful Xing Yu. I’ve never taken Andy Lau and Nicholas Tse totally seriously in terms of martial arts ability, so I can’t really pick apart their action scenes too much. They are both competent and the magic of editing and wires help their scenes. Given his age it is understandable, but I also was hoping to see more from Yue Hoi and his legendary Southern Mantis skills. Sadly, he has only one short fighting scene and no Mantis arts are utilized.

I was also disappointed with the overall preachy feeling the film leaned toward in regards to Hou’s acceptance of Buddhist principles and lifestyle. Granted a traumatic experience can change one’s outlook on life significantly, but his transformation seemed too complete in what seems to be a relatively short amount of time. Tse’s subsequent epiphany unfortunately comes off as forced as well.

Overall, Shaolin is a good film, but could have been much better. The martial arts feel rehashed and stale and the emotion artificially ratcheted up for audience reaction. I was hoping for more.


Reviewer Score: 6

Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 12/19/2011
Summary: 8/10 - nicely made

First things first, this film has nothing to do with the traditional Burning of the Shaolin Temple - set in a different time period, totally different factions and characters involved. I have no idea if there is any real historical basis for this story, but I suspect not.

The time is the early days of the Chinese Republic, i.e. around the turn of the 20th Century. In the vaccuum left by the revolution, warlords have taken power in a number of regions. In the film, this includes the area of the Shaolin Temple. Andy Lau plays a rather ruthless warlord (General Hou), intent on seizing power over the area. The one thing he won't do to gain power is make concessions to foreigners - China for the Chinese etc. Nicholas Tse plays his protege (Cao Man), who learns the lessons of ruthlessness a little too well.

General Hou's violence and lack of compassion come back to bite him, and when disaster strikes he seeks refuge in the Shaolin Temple. He rather too readily abandons his greed and lust for power and accepts the principles of Buddhism - compassion, benevolence, sacrifice and letting go of desire. Jackie Chan has a small part the temple chef, who is a positive influence on him - as is the wise abbot played by Yue Hoi.

Meanwhile, whilst Hou is on the fast track to enlightenment, Cao Man has filled his role, and his lust for power is even less bridled than his mentor's - he readily collaborates with the foreigners against his own countrymen, and when he finds out that Hou is still alive he cannot tolerate that situation continuing.

Ultimately, Hou and the Shaolin Monks must resist Cao Man's evil ways to protect the people, making many sacrifices to do so (i.e. they have a great big fight).

Shaolin is a fairly shallow film, the messages about Buddhist wisdom being put forward in a pretty simplistic way, but it is well crafted and written. Production values are top notch, acting very good, visuals and audio very slick. Action scenes are very well choregraphed and executed.

Well worth a look.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: mrblue
Date: 06/02/2011

Benny Chan's 2011 Lunar New Year epic martial arts picture is the latest take on a long-running mainstay of Hong Kong and Chinese kung fu films: the burning of the Shaolin Temple. Nit-pickers may have an aneurysm after being subjected to the historical inaccuracies presented here, but for pure popcorn entertainment for the masses, you can't go wrong with Shaolin.

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: STSH
Date: 01/30/2011
Summary: Spectacular

Although they are quite different in a number of ways, I will compare Shaolin with Detective Dee. Both are spectacular, big budget fu-fighting extravaganzas starring Any Lau, and I hope very much that the box-office success heralds a string of movies in a similar vein. Both are great movies. Highly entertaining and the sort of movies you really should see in the cinema first. But while Detective Dee is undoubtably the better movie, this is in no way to dismiss Shaolin.

High production values are evident for Shaolin. No less than five film companies contributing. Money well spent. Glorious locations, wonderful mountain scenery, damn good special effects. Terrific casting. Thrilling set-piece mass kung fu fighting scenes.

Though it would be unkind to describe the movie as an Andy Lau vehicle, he couldn’t have done any better if it had been. We know just what to expect with Andy in the lead, and he delivers. Being surrounded by such stellar fu talent might have been a problem for Andy, but Corey Yuen’s action direction is skilfully designed in such a way that the great fighters are matched with each other, while the climactic battle between Andy and the main villain is a clever mixture of moderate fu, special effects and spectacular explosions.

Some of the movie ads I’ve seen here imply that Jackie Chan is the star. Perhaps they’re doing this with a nudge and a wink. Jackie’s role is important, but he is a guest star. His character is the old and kindly cook who has spent his entire life in Shaolin, and had only done a couple of years of martial arts. In a priceless exchange, General Hou asks the cook if he was ever a monk. No, he replies, because my heart is impure, just like yours. So Jackie doesn’t fight ? Oh My God ! I want my money back !

Fear not, Jackie does get to show off in a fight. This scene does not technically fit in with the story, and the difference in tone makes it blatantly obvious that it was inserted to satisfy Jackie’s billions of fans. That said, the scene is an absolute scream, is sheer pleasure to watch, and worth the price of admission alone.

There are some aspects of the movie that jar or don’t make sense. For instance, a battle and chase scene early on features power lines. Yes, electrical power lines which spark as they are hit with crashing buildings. Now I understand that the precise time of Shaolin Temple is shrouded in legend, but did the Chinese hinterland really have electricity then ? And, for that matter, were railroads being built around that time ? And were evil foreigners involved at the time of the burning of the temple ? I can only conclude that historical accuracy would only have gotten in the way.

There are things to be annoyed at. It seems that Chinese cinema will never truly get over the stereotype of the insanely evil Chinese-loathing foreign devil. The explanation given for this is even more laughable than Sir Peter’s evil cackle. Still, it is perhaps difficult to allow subtlety into a spectacular, and everyone involved acts at the hysterical end, so perhaps it is carping to point to one character’s extreme over-reaction.

Excellent casting notwithstanding, some actors are not put to their best use. Wu Ging is the clearest example. Perfectly cast as the senior martial arts trainer monk, one of Hong Kong’s greatest film fu fighters is not given nearly enough opportunity to show off his jaw-dropping skill. This is particularly disappointing, given the presence of Xiong Yin Yin, one of the few who can genuinely match him. Instead, Xing Yu is given the tough assignment of matching Yin Yin, where again Corey Yuen’s action design produces thrilling matches.

Also, the luscious Fan Bingbing is little more than a guest star. Okay, I concede this is very much a blokes-fighting-blokes flick, but I really believe Bingbing could have stayed on screen longer.

There are a few quiet passages which could have been shortened. The lead up in the beginning could have been compressed. It seems the producers wanted to establish the grandeur and spectacle, but I believe this angle was drawn out too much and, anyway, was established far better alongside the development of the narrative when things finally hotted up. If I were the editor (hah ! Such conceit!), I’d have found a way to compress the first half hour to about ten minutes.

Detective Dee suffers from none of these drawbacks, and being helmed by the hurricane genius Tsui Hark is an unbeatable advantage. But don’t let these details put you off. Shaolin is a grand way to spend two hours. Bugger the Hollywood action blockbusters.

Reviewer Score: 8