Shaolin - 2011

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Shaolin (2011) Review By Mihnea Gheorghita The Last Samurai (2003) Meets Musashi (1954) in what can only be described as one of the best Chinese action movies in recent memory. Note that I did not stress “kung fu” or “martial arts” as a dominant factor, as “Shaolin” is so much more. The clash of actors going by their English name of choice starts with veteran Andy Lau, who reunites with world favourite Jackie Chan for the first time since “The Legend Of The Drunken Master” (1994), and ends with
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  Shaolin (2011) ReviewBy Mihnea GheorghitaThe Last Samurai (2003) Meets Musashi (1954) in what canonly be described as one of the best Chinese action movies inrecent memory. Note that I did not stress “kung fu” or “martialarts” as a dominant factor, as “Shaolin” is so much more. The clash of actors going by their English name of choice starts withveteran Andy Lau, who reunites with world favourite Jackie Chan forthe first time since “The Legend Of The Drunken Master” (1994),and ends with multi-talented Nicholas Tse, also a collaborator of Chan’s. Also worth mentioning are Fan Bingbing (reuniting with Lauafter a personal favourite of mine – “A Battle Of Wits” (2006) andHung Yan-yan, an expert martial artist who served as Jet Li’s stuntdouble in 1986.In what I believe to be one of his most sincere and difficultportrayals of a character, Andy Lau plays general Hou Jie, a ruthlesswarlord in search of ultimate victory in the war against his enemies,but also a loving father and husband. He makes early contact withthe shaolin monks helping the war victims when he chases a rivalinto their temple, and even though showing some sort of respect,their peaceful ways disgust the war-hungry general.Hou Jie meets with fate sooner than expected, when anassassination goes wrong, and his second in command and protégé,Cao Man, tired by his leader’s apparent superiority in most aspects,decides to betray him and take charge of his army. Hou surviveswith the help of the man he just shot, his sworn brother Song Hu.On the run, with his wife Yan Xi (graciously played by Fan Bingbing)falling behind and his daughter Shengnan (to anyone looking overthis, please feel free to correct this or any other names I’ve spelledwrong, as my subs were horrible) badly injured, the now formergeneral finds his way to the shaolin temple he just recently  ridiculed. He finds shelter but also fate taking its toll: Shengnan diesin her parents’ arms, and Yan Xi blames him for her death.Completely lost and lacking his once well-known self-confidence,Hou Jie wanders the fields surrounding the temple until he falls in aboar trap.Enter Jackie Chan, providing a much needed share of comic relief through his character, the kind hearted shaolin cook Wudao. Anunspoken bond starts to develop between the two, a very well-drawn Yin-Yang relationship between a man that refused tounderstand peace and the shaolin principles and one that simplywas too lazy to do so. Hou Jie eventually decides that becoming amonk would be the best way to leave his sins behind, and thusstarts another battle, the one between the disgruntled formerwarlord and himself.In the opening line, I’ve compared this film to both a contemporaryand a distant classic, each one easily noticeable in “Shaolin”. Theangry, battle-torn stranger leaves his civilised world and joins theunexpected army of peace is what made “The Last Samurai” sogreat, while the determination and will power towards a deeperunderstanding that are central in Eiji Yoshikawa’s “Musashi”. Ablend of both, “Shaolin” proves that movies with kung fu can bemore than just flying fists of fury.An impressive performance by all the members of the cast brings alevel of drama and emotion that will be very hard to match in futureproductions.Lau was breath-taking in his portrayal of general Hou Jie, anamazing job with both of Hou’s personalities, he makes it so veryhard to guess when exactly evil runs through fear before becominggood. Jackie Chan becomes the Chinese Chris Tucker in this one,taking on a role that I’m sure he enjoyed. As for Nick Tse, playingthe main antagonist didn’t seem to bother him one bit. He felt everybit of Cao Man’s anger and was an excellent Yang to Lau’s Yin.A simple, overused plot idea is turned into a gem with an evenamount of drama, impressive dialogue and exemplary martial arts.  Director Benny Chan –whom I’ve started to follow after seeing “AMoment Of Romance II” and “Jackie Chan’s Who Am I?”- does agreat job, and right behind him is writer Alan Yuen, who knewexactly what the film needed to become a hit.Needless to say, I give this 5 out of 5 stars. The CGI was in place,there were only a few “flying bodies” as compared to otherexaggerated fight scenes, the plot was well built, the cast well-chosen and overall, the film was a joy to watch. Recommended tokung fu-savvy moviegoers, but also to anyone who enjoys a classicidea taking on a new shape, “Shaolin” is in a world of its own.
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