Combustible Celluloid
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With: Andy Lau, Nicholas Tse, Jackie Chan, Fan Bingbing, Wu Jing
Written by: Alan Yuen, Cheung Chi Kwong, Quiyu Wang, Chan Kam-Cheung, Cheung Tan
Directed by: Benny Chan
MPAA Rating: R for violence
Language: Cantonese, with English subtitles
Running Time: 131
Date: 01/20/2011

Shaolin (2011)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Kung Food

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Big, historical martial arts epics have been lately making money in China, and so there are a lot of them; Shaolin is the latest to open here in the States. It's well executed, and it has many dazzling moments, but it's not enough to climb to the top of the heap. The director is Benny Chan, who is best known for some of Jackie Chan's more recent films, and he simply doesn't have the grace or style of someone like Yuen Woo Ping (True Legend) or John Woo (Red Cliff).

In the early days of the Chinese Republic, a warlord, General Hou (Andy Lau), and his sworn brother Cao Man (Nicholas Tse), ravage the land, conquering, stealing, and slaughtering as they go. Lusting for more power, Cao arranges to betray his old friend through a staged assassination. In the violence, Hou's daughter is killed. Hou finds himself lost, wanted by his former men, and gravely injured. A cook (Jackie Chan) at the nearby Shaolin Temple rescues him and nurses him back to health. Hou soon finds that the monks' belief in Martial Zen helps him let go of his hatred. Unfortunately, Cao still have some evil plans up his sleeve.

The plot has very few surprises, and Chan's direction doesn't seem to get inside the material. However, Jackie Chan brings some warm energy to his supporting role -- a rarity for this big star -- and turns in a delightfully self-effacing performance. The character's "coming out" sequence is truly wonderful. In the other roles, while Tse doesn't bring much depth to his sneering villain, star Lau -- with his handsomely angular face -- gives a fine performance.

Well Go USA released the Blu-Ray edition. Quality is superb, and audio includes optional English dubbing. Extras include deleted scenes, and trailers. A bonus second disc, a DVD, includes a 2-hour behind-the-scenes documentary and another 2-hour making-of documentary, plus interviews with the cast and crew.

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