Shaolin is a martial arts epic from director Benny Chan released in 2011. It stars famous Hong Kong actor/singer Andy Lau as Hou Jie, a warlord in ancient China who, at the start of the film, is basically the villain who ridicules and belittles the Shaolin monks. (I generally do not like to give away any part of stories but I understand that if I say nothing, it’s hard for anyone reading to make up their minds based purely on my recommendation. However, if you do not wish to know anything more about the story, feel free to skip to the next paragraph.) His goal is to seize control of the territories, specifically an area called Dengfeng in the Henan Province. He is careful to eliminate those he feels he is threatened by, including his “sworn brother”, Hong Fu. He sets a trap for Hong Fu but things do not work out the way he planned and the story takes a turn which results in him experiencing the very trails and sufferings he put so many through. Sounds like a typical, boring redemption story? Not boring in the least, at least not in my opinion.
This is not a film that breaks new grounds. Everything has been done before, but when all the elements are put together in such a nice package, it’s hard not to be entertained by it. And that’s the key word here – entertainment. It’s not a deep movie (I guess it can be as there are sub-plots involving family, culture, Western imperialism etc but do we really want to analyse an action movie that much?), and some parts are clearly over-the-top but if you can look past that, you’ll find a beautiful film with sweeping camera moves, gorgeously backlit sets, scenery of the mountainous regions of China that will make you want to pack your bags and book your next holiday there… and on top of that, the story and action are pretty decent too.
There were moments (well, one or two anyway) that made me gasp, or laugh out loud, and although I was munching while watching the film, there were also moments that engrossed me so much that I forgot about the snacks.
The comedic relief comes from Jackie Chan, who appears in a small role and his fight scene is the one that unfortunately, is extremely overdone (tossing soldiers up into the air with a giant cooking wok as if they weigh nothing) but hey, the scene was clearly intended to be done this way and not meant to be taken seriously.
And finally, the beautifully written theme song can be heard at the start of the end credits (lyrics and vocals by the lead actor Andy Lau) and this part of the credits is also visually breathtaking, with scenes of the Shaolin temple covered in snow. The song and some of the visuals are in the second video below but beware that if you haven’t seen the movie, the video clips below do contain spoilers. The first clip is the trailer and the second clip is the theme song.