Inspired by a 1982 martial arts blockbuster hit starring Jet Li, Shaolin (directed by Benny Chan) was re-written in a significant manner wherein the sense and trademark of martial arts were both transformed into something unpleasant. From the usual Hong Kong martial arts taste, the film focused on mercy and regrets during the spiritual rebirth of a warlord.
Though Chan managed to bring the viewers to fascinating sets, he created excessively long slow motions during combat scenes, which brought a very awkward feeling to the audience.
Good thing, he once again captured the viewers’ attention with his very vibrant and realistic frames during battlefield combats. The story focused on the poor people who were threatened of land division through the venture of selfish Chinese warlords. Inhabitants of the land were awfully harassed by muggers who were initially funded with guns by foreign land investors. These financiers wished to convert the space into a railroad system all over the country to collect money from everyone.
Andy Lau’s character, Hou Chieh, witnessed the terrifying power struggle between the republican regime and unruly warlords during the peak of Qing Dynasty in 1920s. Hou’s squad victoriously won the war between territories in a town in the province of Henan called Dengfeng. With this huge success, his pride and ego crept into his head until he considered General Sung, his brother, as a competitor and threat to his current power. He carefully tricked Sung to finish him through Captain Tsao Man (Nicholas Tse), who, at the first place, intended to do a double-kill on the said occasion.
Luckily, Hou was spared from death when he managed to flee alongside his seriously wounded daughter Nan until they reached a secured Shaolin Temple. There, he decided to master Kung Fu and Zen until such time he expressed regret to his wrongdoings and eventually became a monk.
This movie could have been so much better if this fight scene lasted a lot longer.
Hou’s awkward martial arts movements were clearly noticeable on the succeeding scenes where the level of excitement and thrill were nowhere near the first few scenes in the movie. Possible reasons for these sudden turn of anticipations were the fast cutting of acts from actual fight scenes. Though the intentions of every martial arts form were clear, the combat’s overall plan was not fully appreciated by some due to its unwanted cuts.
One of the most remarkable fight sequences from Shaolin took place in a mountainside ridge peril while Hou was chasing a caravan. To make the most out of the breath taking sequence, lantern flames were used utilized along the way of pitch black darkness. Hou’s desperate measures were vividly visualized as he exerted over-the-top efforts to save the tottering baby carriage of his daughter, just in time before the cliff welcomes her arrival.
Compared to the old movie released in 1982, the present Shaolin lacked a bit of authenticity as numerous monks posed various martial arts formed only to function as ornamentals throughout the film. In the past, North Korean cheerleaders were complemented by real Wushu practitioners who performed genuine forms in the big screen, which makes the impact more convincing.
Jackie Chan also played a part on this film through the silly monk character of Wudao who helped Hou in terms of spirituality. Due to his age, Wudao has turned weak but still wise, which made him come up with a decision to serve as a temple chef as an alternative. He believed that he was not good enough to learn martial arts. Jackie Chan made an entrance by bragging his supposedly fantastic cooking talents.
He did not introduce any interesting sequences or daredevil stunts; and the only fascinating thing he did was the use of rapid fish-slicing and wok in a scene, which certainly categorized him as part of the comedic minor supporting roles. Meanwhile, Fan Bingbing portrayed the role of Hou’s wife, who was showered greatly with compassion and unconditional love.
No matter how many people reacted negatively on the movie, Shaolin still delivered most of the essentials a fan was looking for on a Hong Kong martial arts film. Though sharp-eyed viewers tackled the sloppier parts of the film like character and drama issues, it could not be denied that most of the budget used all during the course of production concentrated on bigger action sequences instead.
It was clearly understandable that melodramatic frames were incorporated on some action sequences to render a stronger impact to the viewers. As some experts said, Shaolin truly covered a classically modernized approach on martial arts film industry.