Shaolin is the latest historical epic to hit the theaters from overseas and it’s another example of how some genres Hollywood can never get right. It’s a good action drama. The closest Hollywood can get to that usually is The Expendables. Shaolin, starring a who’s who of Chinese kung fu and action movies (Jackie Chan, Andy Lau, Wu Jing), is a drama with some great action scenes in it. It’s a mess of a movie that redeems itself in the last hour.
As the movie opens, General Hou Jie (Andy Lau) has been fighting through Eastern China for many years. He and Cao Man (Nicholas Tse), his First Officer, have become powerful warlords during a time of great unrest in the years when China first became a republic around 1910-1920. When we are introduced to these two they are about to destroy an ancient Shaolin temple protected by Buddhist monks who take care of the surrounding village and it’s people. Hou nearly destroys the temple after tracking down his sworn enemy who has run to the Shaolin monks for protection. Hou murders his rival in cold blood after being warned by the monks of the evils of his ways. Meanwhile, Cao Man has become envious of his “brother’s” success, power and riches. He soon betrays Hou Jie. This betrayal leads to the death of Hou’s daughter. His family and life destroyed, he decides to atone for his life of evil and becomes a monk after meeting the temple’s cook (Jackie Chan). This all leads up to the inevitable showdown between the forces of good and evil, here represented by Hou with the Shaolin monks who helped him see how much his actions have done to China versus Cao Man and his evil army.
The movie starts out very slowly with the usual martial-arts movie cliché’s (betrayal, brothers against brothers, lots of crying). Once the conflicts are set up, the movie picks up steam and the second half is a much better film than the first half. Which is why I can’t really recommend this to anyone who’s not a martial-arts fan. Especially, if you saw the trailers and think it’s a Jackie Chan movie, which I did. I will say that this is the best movie Jackie Chan has been in years. Andy Lau (Infernal Affairs, House Of Flying Daggers) is great in the lead role. The action and fighting scenes are great. There’s just not enough of them in this. It does tell an entertaining story and the story of redemption at its heart is well done. But, this movie is literally made for fans of movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Good, The Bad, The Weird.