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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