Fresh off the heels of our Top 10 Andy Lau movies list, we witness him in a fantastic role as an egotistical warlord on the pursuit of riches and power. Benny Chans ‘Shoalin’ retells the stories about Shaolin monks and its temple during China’s counter-revolutionary that leads to the temple’s destruction under the hands of ruthless soldiers. Andy Lau plays Hao Jie, a ruthless warlord, whose overwhelming victories and amassed personal wealth and success have come at the expense of the country’s vast, struggling population. It is no wonder that Cao Man ultimately decides to betray his master! What an emotional roller coaster this film ended up being.
When it comes to story telling that deals with things of supernatural, fantastic and epic nature, Chinese are culturally drawn towards the past while American films tend to either go with fantasy or sci-fi. However, the plot is thorough, easy to follow and the language barrier shows no problems of slow-down. This really is the type of film I have been waiting for all year. It isn’t your normal kung fu flick because the director laces philosoply behind the fighting. That aspect alone adds an authentic touch of realism. The perspective has become the main theme of the movie, where not only we have seen how Tsao wanted to control the territory, but also the Western powers who aims to take over China using gun power. It is such a rare occasion to see a filmmaker completed its storytelling without leaving any parts hanging. Shaolin makes a very good start for Hong Kong’s film industry in the beginning of 2011.
Although the CGI bothered me a bit, I was quickly sidetracked by the magnificent courtyards and halls of the Shaolin temple. Of course, just when you think this film couldn’t get any better, Jackie Chan shows up who serves as comic relief as a Shaolin monk-cook. It is the introduction of Jackie Chan that Hou Jie befriends him and he finds a way to resolve the existing conflict with the fellow monks. He leads the monks in a fiery stand as they try to end the rule of the warlord Cao Man. You then are taken on a wild ride and all the while you realize that this is a thinking man’s film on the philosophical aspects of Buddhism.
So, yes, we loved this film. What makes the film stands out from its peers are the Buddhist insights and forgiveness theme that runs strongly through the film. Hong Kong Cinema rules again! They did it with Ip Man in 2009, Bodyguards and Assassins in 2010, and now Shaolin in 2011. This movie has done Chinese history dignity, respect and honour in every aspect. It is a blockbuster in every sense, from spectacle, to most of all spirit. We are crossing our fingers that Well Go USA releases this film in North America for a theatrical release so that Western audiences can get a refresher course on why Andy Lau usually delivers and a reminder on how good Jackie Chan can be if put in the right role. One of the best films I have seen in quite some time.