Following an unexpected turn of events though he is stripped of his power, his daughter dies, in a rather brutal but somewhat melodramatic scene, and his wife leaves him. Forced to question his life choices Hou Chieh spends the remainder of the film going through a ‘spiritual’ transformation, aided by his entry into the Shaolin Temple and his study of martial arts and Buddhism there.
With the endorsement of the actual Shaolin monastery, something that is now legally necessary in order to use the name, Shaolin is a film that certainly appears to be pushing a certain agenda but thankfully it is quite a positive one. The focus on the redemption of Hou Chieh is really at the heart of the film and the transformative power of the Shaolin Temple and its core beliefs are at the centre of his character’s journey.
The film never really comes across like flat propaganda though (there are the now very familiar hints at anti-British, pro-China sentiments though) and the redemption actually provides a satisfying dramatic backbone to what could have otherwise been another run-of-the-mill Chinese martial arts epic. The convincing performance by Lau really sells this difficult character arc too and his talents as an actor more than make up for his slight weaknesses in the area of martial arts.
The martial arts and general action sequences in Shaolin are mostly very enjoyable, well choreographed and reasonably well directed with action director Corey Yuen ensuring that the scenes are moderately inventive and satisfyingly executed. There is prominent use of wire work throughout but this is used to enhance some of the more impressive set pieces rather than as something that pulls the focus away from the action too much and looks glaringly out of place.
Although Lau is certainly an actor first and martial artist second, he is convincing in the more action heavy scenes and the supporting roles, including a small but significant turn from Jackie Chan, ensure that the film delivers to those hungry for impressive martial artistry. Perhaps the only issue with the action in Shaloin is its integration within the plot, leaving some of the action feeling separate from the rather touching drama that unfolds.
Cine-Asia have done a reasonably decent job with this Blu-ray release both in terms of the quality of image, the audio and also the special features. There is a lack of definition in the picture with some details in the background looking a little blurry in places and blacks are a touch murky rather than inky but overall it’s certainly not a bad transfer and is very much in keeping with the approach common in mainstream HD releases. The DTS original language audio is dynamic and certainly impactful in some of the more explosive scenes. The disc also comes with an English dub track (featuring a very different translation to the subtitles in a number of scenes) which is, of course, to be avoided.
The extras included on the Blu-ray are pretty extensive, although most will only be of interest to a minority. The commentary track comes from Cine-Asia regular Bey Logan is an enjoyable listen and probably the best of the bunch. To any fans of Hong Kong cinema Logan’s commentary style will be very familiar but to those new to his commentaries, expect a trivia filled and relaxed track. The remainder of the extras are a bit of a slog to get through in places but, especially for fans of the actors involved, there is certainly a lot on offer.
The full list of special features included on the Blu-ray are as follows,
Audio Commentary by Hong Kong Cinema Expert Bey Logan
Making of Gallery (9 Featurettes)
Interview Gallery (15 Interviews)
Behind the Scenes Gallery (20 Featurettes)
Shaolin Wushu In Action – Cine Asia Exclusive
Deleted Scenes Gallery (10 Deleted Scenes)