Shaolin (2011)
Reviewed by: Gaijin84 on 2011-12-19
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