Shaolin is set in Dengfeng, Henan, during the warlord era of early Republican China. The warlord Hou Jie (Andy Lau) defeats a rival named Huo Long and seizes control of Dengfeng. Huo flees to Shaolin Temple to hide but Hou appears and shoots him. Hou ridicules the Shaolin monks before leaving.
Song Hu, Hou sets a trap for Song in a restaurant, under the guise of agreeing to his daughter’s engagement to Song’s son.
This leads to a violent sequence of events ending with Hou having to flee to the Shaolin temple for help.
The first hour is very impressive stuff indeed. Very nicely paced; the film flows beautifully between scenes. The first hour is very much carried by the developing relationship and interplay between Andy Lau and Nicholas Tse. Big credit needs to go to Tse , he expertly balances his role of villain perfectly.
I’ll be honest I’m actually not the biggest Tse fan (I personally thought he was very weak in the lead of the Wing Chun Series – so I was actually pretty disappointed to hear of his casting in this all star ensemble). But really my worries were unfounded, Tse really was excellent and the interchange between him and Andy are real standouts.
Benny Chan has done a great job managing the talent; Sometimes when you have movies which put together all star casts of this nature there is always some disappointment at the screen time given to a particular star, but in all honesty the screen time for each of the stars in Shaolin is evenly spread given their roles.
Some may argue that there is very little screen time given to Jackie Chan but bare in mind that his appearance in Shaolin is really just a ‘special appearance’ . So alot of screen time should never have been expected. In saying that, Chan does have more screen time than even I was expecting. In fact Chan’s role is vital to the development of Andy Lau’s character.
Okay I’m putting this down as a bad point but personally I don’t believe it’s all bad.
You see I’m taking into account the wider audience here , who on seeing the cast and the topic will most likely be expecting a martial arts action-fest, sadly those expecting this may leave disappointed.
Shaolin is very much a character/story driven movie first and the action really is more of a consequence of the actions of those involved refer than the party piece.
That’s not to to say that we don’t get a fair bet of action.
Wu Jing (as usual) provides some of the films best action moments. Tse and Lau also do their best but next to Wu Jing,Chan,Hung YangYang and Xing Yu; Tse and Lau are nothing but the appetisers to the main course.
Shaolin … almost lives up to the hype… almost.
Its the first real big hitter of 2011 and to be honest its just about good enough.
The first half of the movie is excellent and well paced but once we get into the finale and the action pieces you can see that the movie starts to slowly fall down and feel a little disjointed which really is a shame.
Another issue is the plot..It just doesn’t work, whilst the concept is great, everything just feels rushed.
If more care was taken with the development of the plot then I think we could have been on for a classic, on the other hand the history of Shaolin is soo rich that Benny Chan could have picked any of the legendary attacks on Shaolin to base a movie on (or even some of the legends).
The cast do an excellent job with what they are given though. Each one of them plays their roles perfectly, special mention to the leads Andy Lau and Nicholas Tse, both of whom during the movie go through transitions which are both honest and believable.
One thing that really bothered me whilst watching Shaolin, was the overall sense of time.
It was very hard to believe that Andy Lau could go from a commander to a monk with great Shaolin skills in what seemed like such a short space of time.
It was very difficult to work out how long he had spent in the temple and at Jackie Chan’s shelter; honestly everything felt very rushed in this aspect.
The movie starts off as a character development piece exploring how the principles and teachings of Shaolin help to bring humanity to the harse Command Hou, but 20 minutes from the end all this development is quickly rushed and the weak conclusion almost ruin the film.
Overall, Shaolin brings nothing new to the table but is still a joy to watch. But those looking for a pure action flick may be better served by ‘True Legend’, whilst those looking for a movie with a bit more character should find Shaolin a pretty enjoyable film.