DVD Review: Shaolin

shaolin_ DVD

You’ve seen Shaolin before. Trust me, you have.

So it’s actually to this redemptive tale’s eternal credit that it feels fresh, exciting and poignant. Chronicling the fall from grace of a hardened warlord to his eventual/inevitable embrace of spiritual ideology, Shaolin echoes the underlying salvation narrative of titles such as Fearless and The Last Samurai.

But Shaolin’s got a whole lot more going for it than that!

Inspired more by the cultural impact of Jet Li’s 1982 debut The Shaolin Temple than anything else, Shaolin is an allegory for eastern physicality on western ballistics, Asian spirituality and European militarism. Shaolin actually bridges a socio-cultural divide in terms of action, plotting and relevance.

But you’ll probably be having too much fun to notice.

Shaolin is peppered with tastes and teasers of exquisitely choreographed action by Cory Yuen (Transporter, Kiss of the Dragon, X-Men.) The stunt-work should have you rewinding regularly, while the practical and particle effects will see you retrieving your jaw from the floor with regularity.

Specifically the assault upon the Shaolin Temple; I’ve no idea why cascading debris is so pretty, but it is.

And although leading man Andy Lau isn’t a natural martial artist, he composes himself well during the copious action scenes. Meanwhile the presence of veterans likes Wu Jing, Xiong Xinxin and, of course, Jackie Chan elevates the standard far beyond anything you’ll see in cinemas this summer.

In terms of sheer visceral thrill, Shaolin schools Hollywood in how precisely to bust blocks!

Yuen has distilled a signature style which tastes equal parts east and west. Examples include a breathless foot to horse to carriage chase scene, and a staggering half hour climax splicing explosions, bone crunching stunts, subtle wirework, modest CG enhancement and kinetic brawls.

Not that it’s all spinning heel kicks and exploding monasteries. As expected, Andy Lau lights up the screen and is likely to prove a magnet for your affections, and maybe even a few tears. But it’s the effort from the support cast that rounds this feature so well. From Nicholas Tse’s always lurking menace to Jackie’s criminally underrated conviction, save for a few moments of clichéd symbolism, each and every scene has a performance to draw you in.

Shaolin isn’t flawless by any stretch. But save for a few choppy takes, a (justifiable) lull in the middle act and some inexplicably woeful English language ‘actors’, director Benny Chan has crafted his best effort to date.

And he did this by keeping his plot concise, his cast honest, his crew diligent, and his money-shots, well, bountiful.

Combined with last month’s DVD release of Detective Dee, Chinese Cinema once again cements itself as the premier source of action-packed adventure flicks. And while Detective Dee brimmed with imagination and intelligence, Shaolin overflows with sentiment and principle.

If you’ve access to a telly, a DVD player and a pair of eyeballs, you really should be watching Shaolin. As in, right now!

Jack McGlynn

Shaolin is released on DVD & Blu-Ray on 12th September

Format: Anamorphic, Dolby, PAL, Widescreen
Language English, Mandarin Chinese
Region: Region 2 (This DVD may not be viewable outside Europe. Read more about DVD formats.)
Number of discs: 2
Classification: 15
Studio: Cine-Asia
DVD Release Date: 12th Sep 2011

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DVD: Little Big Soldier

littlebigsoldier

DIR: Sheng Ding • WRI: Jackie Chan • PRO: Jackie Chan, Solon So • CAST: Jackie Chan, Rongguang Yu

If you sit down to Little Big Soldier expecting to be thrilled by 90 minutes of Jackie leapfrogging around set pieces, delivering athletic beat-downs and falling off stuff in spectacular fashion, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. This 2010 film is very light in the action stakes, and considering 95% of Jackie’s career has been built around filming action, your disillusionment is understandable.I allot you 30 seconds to deal with it.

Consider instead that 95% of Jackie’s career has also been built about his peerless physical comedy and you’ll get a feeling for Little Big Soldier. Going against the grain, this is a buddy comedy/adventure film about a tired old foot-soldier who finds himself in possession of an enemy commander. Little Big Soldier chronicles his attempts to transport the young general back to his homeland where he’ll be rewarded with goats or sheep or something. As you’re no longer expecting 8-minute fight scenes, you’ll discover the dynamic of Little Big Soldier works better than most films of its genre.

There are minor yet creative fights, imaginative stunts, a well constructed narrative and best of all, a believable, entertaining chemistry between Jackie Chan and Leehom Wang. There’s a common misconception that Jackie cannot act, relying solely on his physicality to compel viewers. Such opinions are ignorant of the fact the man has been acting for over 40 years, and it’s nice to see a film that allows him to showcase his range.

Along with his writing, Jackie’s performance is funny, sensitive and powerfully stirring and coupled with the keen pace and enthusiasm, despite yourself you may find yourself moved by the Little Big Soldier’s conclusion. It’s not perfect: some of the jokes miss their mark, the absence of premier action is noticeable, it concludes a bit too quickly and there is absolutely no room for a sequel. But said complaints are more along the lines of ‘I want more!’ than ‘That were terrible!’

If you adored Jackie’s foray into lighter, more subdued adventure, then the DVD offers a lengthy behind the scenes set in China’s astounding Yunnan province. Similarly there’s an extensive interview gallery featuring the stars, the director, the writers, the goats, the sheep…

It’s easy to come down hard on Little Big Soldier for not being all it could have been, but that attitude is akin to coming down hard on a 56-year-old man who wants to share the lime light, take a different route and, for once, focus on something other than getting beat up.

It’s a sweet tale. It’s good fun. Don’t be a hater!

Jack McGlynn

Format: Dolby, PAL, Widescreen
Region: Region 2 Number of discs: 2
Classification: 15
Studio: Showbox Media Group
DVD Release Date: 8th Nov 2010

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The Karate Kid

The Karate Kid

DIR: Harald Zwart • WRI: Christopher Murphey • PRO: James Lassiter, Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith, Ken Stovitz, Jerry Weintraub • DOP: Roger Pratt • ED: Joel Negron • DES: François Séguin • CAST: Jackie Chan, Jaden Smith, Taraji P. Henson

Like most people of my generation, the news that another ‘reimagining’ of a hallowed ’80s institution gave me sweaty palms and sleepless nights. Nobody could take the place of Danny LaRusso or Mr. Miyagi – and no phrase on earth would ever usurp the iconic, the beautiful, the sublime ‘wax on, wax off’ of the original. It was with low expectations, therefore, that I gathered my nieces and nephews together to attend the family screening of the new The Karate Kid movie, already convinced that Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan could only desecrate a legend. How entertaining it is to be proven so wrong!

First and foremost this is a children’s movie, but like all the most successful of this sub-genre, it is also a family movie that can be enjoyed by both the kids, and the adults they have dragged in with them. This small but salient point means that while the children giggle at the comedy and cheer at the action, the adults can nod sagely at the lessons of respect, hard work and friendship buried in the subtext. This is not to discount how action-packed the movie really is – the initial bullying-kid-beat-up is really quite brutal, but in keeping with how harsh the world has become for young kids. And this is a film about young children – gone is the hard world of the 17-year-old original; here, the protagonist is 12 years old, and so are all the bullies. This doesn’t mean the fights are less realistic – in fact, it makes it even harder to watch, seeing young children engage in this behaviour.

But Jaden Smith makes every moment work – a carbon copy of his famous Dad, he is Will Smith in absolute miniature. He has amazing comic timing, can throw himself headlong into all-out action, and is more than capable of engaging with dramatic moments and emotional scenes. In fact, all the adults in the movie are playing catch-up with his fantastic performance. His character, Dre, is the classic fish out of water, moving with his mother to Beijing, where everything is strange and scary to him. There, he meets kung-fu bullies, a pretty girl, and a grouchy mentor – Mr. Han. While no Mr. Miyagi, Jackie Chan shines onscreen, creating a believable and emotional rapport with Jaden. In fact, their comedic and dramatic interaction provides a solid backbone to the entire movie.

There are quite a lot of subtitles, seeing as how half the characters are Chinese, so although the film is 12A, younger children might struggle – unless you’re willing to spend much of the movie reading to them. However, it’s perfect for the 8-14 age group: the action scenes, comedy moments, and relationships – both with his mother, and the young girl Dre takes a liking to – are played out to perfection, and the kids in the cinema were cheering and clapping by the finale. The movie has its faults, of course, (Mr. Han’s back-story could have been left out, for one thing) but Jaden Smith is a star – and probably the most talented and likeable child actor to light up the screens in years. His easy manner and obvious enjoyment ensure that you identify completely with him, and follow his story every step of the way. This is not the The Karate Kid of the ’80s – it’s a martial arts remake that’s a whole new breed, and the introduction of a legend to children of a whole new generation. ‘Jacket on, jacket off!’

Sarah Griffin

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
The Karate Kid
is released on 30th July 2010

The Karate Kid Official Website

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Forbidden Kingdom

Forbidden Kingdom
Forbidden Kingdom

DIR: Rob Minkoff • WRI: John Fusco • PRO: Scott Fischer Casey Silver• DOP: Peter Pau• ED: Eric Strand • DES: Bill Brzeski • CAST: Jet Li, Jackie Chan, Michael Angarano, Yifei Liu, Morgan Benoit, Bing Bing Li, Collin Chou

It’s always refreshing to see a different type of film enter the cinemas and it has been years since a martial arts film has graced us with its presence.

Forbidden Kingdom sends a kung fu-obsessed teen, Jason Tripitikas (Michael Angarano), on the adventure of his life when he finds the antique Chinese staff of the sage warrior, the Monkey King. Jason is transported back to ancient China where he meets a drunken kung fu master, a monk and a skilled, orphaned beauty by the name of Golden Sparrow.

The land is under oppression so together the three must embark on a journey to return the staff to the Monkey King, who for the past five hundred years has been imprisoned in stone by the evil Jade Warlord.

Jason must not only defeat the efforts of the Jade Warlord but also overcome his own self-doubt and free himself by learning the true way of kung fu, which is not just what he’s seen in the movies.

A classic kung fu story about loyalty and friendship, Forbidden Kingdom has something for everyone: exciting fight scenes, a humour-packed plot and some loveable characters. Not the cleverest of plots at times but it does the job of entertaining an audience and wouldn’t be a bad way to while away a lovely Irish summer.

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