Shaolin – Protect the Temple, Blu-ray Collector’s Edition (2011)
Starring: Andy Lau, Jackie Chan, Nicholas Tse, Bingbing Fan
Director: Benny Chan
Studio: Emperor Motion Pictures/Well Go USA WGU01245B [10/25/11]
Video: 1.85:1 for 16:9 1080p HD color
Audio: Mandarin Chinese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Mandarin Chinese DD 2.0, English dubbed DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, English dubbed DD 2.0
Extras: Making Of featurette, Deleted scenes, Behind the Scenes, International trailers, Theatrical trailer
Length: 131 minutes
Perhaps not quite a Crouching Tiger, but I rate this one of the most enjoyable Chinese martial arts movies in some time. Of course I don’t see many, but I’m a Jackie Chan fan and it nice to see him in his “cameo” role here (since he’s getting up in years for his former wild action stuff)—playing a simple cook in the Shaolin monastery, who when push comes to shove, uses his kitchen chops to cleverly do in the bad guys.
This is more of an historical drama with great acting than it is a wild gung-fu epic, but it certainly has its bloody violence along with the flying-thru-the-air gung-fu; the film carries an R rating for violence. It takes place in the early 20th century in Republican China when there was great deprivation and various warlords are fighting it out. Andy Lau plays one who shows no mercies to his enemies, including his sworn brother, another warlord. He chases an opposing general trying to keep the peace into the historic Shaolin temple, where the monks practice a sort of Buddhist martial arts. He even threatens killing the temple’s abbott and writes in blood under their sign “The Birthplace of Martial Arts” the sneering sub-script “is no big deal!”
Yet only a few days later Lau’s warlord is a wounded refugee fleeing for his life and seeking the protection in the same Shaolin temple. The speed with which he renounces his evil life, trains with the monks and become a good person seems hard to believe, but Lau makes it rather convincing. There is some humorous dialog between him and Jackie Chan, since he becomes the cook’s assistant. Lau’s former second-in-command has made a deal with the “foreigners” to build a railroad, and has enslaved the local men, forcing them to unearth historic relics to sell to get more money for more weapons. We don’t see a lot of the gorgeous BingBing Fan, playing the warlord’s wife.
The actual historic Shaolin temple monks collaborated on the film and some are even in it, praising Buddha a lot. At one point they do a Robin Hood trick of stealing rice to give to the starving peasants who have settled at the temple. The several big fight scenes are amazing, especially one with multiple carriages racing around precipitous mountain roads at night. Also the scenes with the child monks—very touching. I understand the film lacked a huge budget; don’t how they did it because it looks fantastic.
Neither of the two leads who have their big mano-a-mano fight at the end are huge martial arts action stars, but their acting is superb and the final scene comes off with gusto. One disturbing element is the film’s depiction of the American “foreign devils” who just want to build their railroad and take over control of the country. Interesting nationalistic twist on what many Americans are concerned about re: China today.
The Blu-ray transfer is terrific, the surround supports the action well, and some of the extras are fairly interesting, though they keep repeating annoying opening and closing bits which seem to come from their TV use. (Why weren’t those edited out?) Some of those involved talk about the interesting historical basis of the film. It is sort of an encore to a 1982 Jet Li martial arts movie. While the Jackie Chan interview is worth viewing, he proves unimpressed with either Buddhism or Americans for that matter.
If any recording is essential to the genre, this is it.