Out of the numerous Chinese/Hong Kong movies I’ve seen recently, Shaolin was surprisingly one of the best. It had good fight scenes, needless to say, but it had a plot that was compelling, exciting and realistic, even managing to illustrate some moral lessons without being overly sappy or ridiculous. I usually like kungfu movies, especially Jet Li ones, but I wasn’t too keen on this remake of the classic mainly due to the time period it’s set in. Taking place in the early 20th century instead of the previous centuries, the movie starts amid fighting between warlords that was abundant in China during that time. While that’s a period that I don’t know much about and which doesn’t get explored often, I think, I would have preferred a movie about the Shaolin monks to be set in more historic times. Especially since guns and cannons were widely used in the time that the movie takes place, which would make the monks who only use their bodies and weapons to fight easy pickings. Well, I was dead wrong because the plot fit the circumstances and period well. Of course, there was some artistic license involved with the fighting but that is expected. There were several poignant moments, such as when AndyLau stays to confront his former protege instead of fleeing in the end, and he explains to his wife: “His faults are my faults. Only I can help him.” Such a humble thing to say about a guy who had killed somebody really close to you and was doing terrible things throughout the movie.
There were a few shortcomings like the quickness of Andy’s redemption and when the wirework/special effects was a bit too slow for a few fighting scenes and people were actually floating in midair after being kicked or knocked back. The acting of the foreign military officer was also notable, and not in a good way.
Hong Kong giants Andy Lau, Nicholas Tse and Jackie Chan starred, but it was surprising to see Chinese actor Wu Jing play a good guy, the best fighting monk. Wu, who often appears as a badass bad guy in Hong Kong movies, did ok as a reserved but forceful presence and it’ll be interesting to see if he plays more good guy roles.