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China is plunged into strife as feuding warlords try to expand their power by warring over neighboring lands. Fuelled by his success on the battlefield, young and arrogant Hao Jie sneers at Shaolin's masters after killing a rival warlord on their temple grounds. But the glory comes before a fall. His own family is wiped out in an unexpected turn of events and Hao is forced to take refuge with the monks. As the civil unrest spreads and the people suffer, Hao and the Shaolin masters are forced to take a fiery stand against the evil warlords. They launch a daring plan of rescue and escape. Written by
In 1982, The Shaolin Temple puts Jet Li into the spotlight as a young man highly skilled in martial arts, which path-ed his acting career into the fame he has today.
Around 29 years later, director Benny Chan comes with a new adaptation of the classic, which shares a similar story with a new cast. Here, we have Andy Lau, Li's co-star in The Warlords (2007) taking the leading role of Hou Chieh, a ruthless warlord who crosses path with Shaolin Temple and sees transformation of himself from a ruthless warlord to a monk with compassion. Together with Nicholas Tse and Jackie Chan in a special appearance, Shaolin marks the first Chinese blockbuster to hit the screens of Asia in 2011.
The story is set in China after the fall of Qing Dynasty with various warlords fighting over the territories. Hou Chieh, a ruthless warlord who bear grudges with Shaolin Temple and sets to get rid of the people around him for his own benefits, was betrayed by his right-hand man, Tsao Man (Tse). It not only leads to the death of his daughter, but also makes his wife (Fan Bing Bing) decided to leave him for good. After being taken refuge by the cook (Chan), the cook enlightens him and Hou decided to become a monk in Shaolin, leaving down the past behind him and start a new life. Though disciples in Shaolin bears grudges with Hou in the past, they accepted Hou. Eventually, we will see how Hou and the disciples defend Shaolin from the invasion of Tsao's army and the Western powers.
The plot sounds no novelty in it, where we can see how the protagonist repents from his sin to the mistake made in the past, to how they will defend in what they believe in. Here, we have seen how the Buddhist teachings have been integrated into the plot. In relating to the Buddhist teaching on the term 'you reap what you sow' with cause and effect, Hou saw the fall of his power and death of loved ones by betrayal, which he gets it from his belief of the dog eat dog world.
Another perspective of Buddhism that can be seen in Shaolin is 'evil begins with the greed and obsession for power'. This is shown by the portrayal of the sufferings from the civilians during the civil war, with warlords fighting for power and wealth. The perspective has become the main theme of the movie, where not only we have seen how Tsao wanted to control the territory, but also the Western powers who aims to take over China using gun power. This has somehow reflect on what has happened in today's society, on how stronger bodies are getting rid the culture, values and history using destructive powers.
Lau's role of Hou Chieh is different from Li's leading role in Shaolin Temple, in terms of characters and the incidents they have been through. Both shared similarities in their fate and enlightenment, to how they find a way to save the majority of the people around them. Chan's cameo appearances as the cook provides some comic relief for the audience after having a long intense and pressure from Tse's evil character. The comic relief did not last very long, since the fate of Shaolin Temple is the main concern of the film.
Overall, Shaolin makes a very good start for Hong Kong's film industry in the beginning of 2011, where it not only shows how Hong Kong film industry are making a turn from various disappointments in 2010, but also pins hope for better productions in the coming months.
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