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Shaolin (Blu-ray Review)

6 Nov, 2011 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Well Go USA
Box Office $0.07 million
$24.98 DVD, $29.98 two-DVD set, $29.98 Blu-ray/DVD, $32.98 two-disc Blu-ray
Rated ‘R’ for sequences of violence.
Stars Andy Lau, Nicholas Tse, Jackie Chan.

When it comes to period martial arts movies, I typically pass. It seems that if you’ve seen one trailer or movie, you’ve seen them all. And since the success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in 2000, the rush of Chinese-made martial arts films has been steady, if not predictable.

However, Shaolin, from director Benny Chan, takes the genre to another level, infusing jaw-dropping fight sequences with an engaging storyline about redemption and penance.

The time is feudal China, where warlords rule through warfare, force and terror. General Hou Jie (Hong Kong’s Andy Lau) is a merciless warlord who, after a prolonged battle, kills a rival leader — an ultimate show of disrespect having taken place inside the sacred grounds of a Shaolin temple.

Jie soon finds out that power obtained through brute force is a two-way street. Indeed, the general suddenly is betrayed by his younger brother, Cao Man (Nicholas Tse), a double-cross that leads to the death of his young daughter.

On the run, Jie seeks solace and protection from the Shaolin monks — a spiritual enclave that espouses furthering the teachings of Buddha through disciplined kung fu. Among the enlightened monks is an everyman cook-comedian, played with aplomb by an aging Jackie Chan.

Jie’s comeuppance and spiritual, moral rehab by martial Zen is profound and carries the film — despite a steady undercurrent of Chinese Party dogma regarding greed (“You possess far more than you need,” Jie tells Cao Man) and foreign occupation, among other Western vices.

Shaolin on Blu-ray is worthy entertainment. The making-of featurette is especially notable as it underscores the perfectionism applied to artistry, discipline and showmanship that is Chinese cinema.

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