[I previously reviewed Shaolin in the course of reviewing Cine Asia's Blu-ray release. I'm reprinting the content that applies to the film itself, with new comments at the end, directly reflective of Well Go USA's Blu-ray Collector's Edition]
Director Benny Chan's mainland debut, Shaolin
, is a solid wushu film. If I'm
completely honest, and I'd never be anything less, there's really
nothing new in this film, but it is stylish, well-paced, filled with
engaging performers, and even manages to throw a bit of well-timed humor
into the mix without digressing too greatly. Well Go USA is currently the number one distributor of Asian big name action features in the US, and this release helps cement that position.
Well Go USA:
In a young Republic of China, where greedy warlords fuel a period of war
and strife, Hou Jie (Andy Lau) arrogantly shows no mercy to his enemies
seeking refuge with the benign and compassionate Shaolin monks. After
unscrupulously killing a wounded enemy, Hou Jie pays a terrible price
for his actions and is forced to seek refuge in the same Shaolin
Monastery he blatantly disrespected. Hou Jie s traitorous
second-in-command Cao Man (Nicholas Tse) continues where the
once-warlord left off, betraying his country and his own people. Hou Jie
must adapt to Shaolin principles to stop the monster he created.
These days we don't see a whole lot of kung fu
ensemble pieces. There is usually one or two big names on the marquee
who run through a shit-ton of hoods on their way to save the princess or
whatever. This time around, we're given a solid cast, some of whom are
wushu stars, and some of whom are less known for their action
performances and more for their dramatic skills. Everyone brings their
own flavor to the stew, and what comes out it delicious!
The nominal star of Shaolin
Andy Lau, who has some experience in the martial arts, but is really
not a kung fu actor. Lau begins the film as a bloodthirsty general bent
on conquest who happens to run into his public enemy number one at the
fabled Shaolin Temple. When he shoots him down in front of the monks,
they don't flinch. They never flinch. Lau's right hand man, played by
Nicolas Tse, is chastised for not being quite as ruthless, and he
attempts to rectify that in spectacular fashion, with.. BUM BUM BUM...
Yeah, some of the plot is a bit hackneyed, but it is
all in the service of some pretty spectacular action. One of my (and
our) favorite performers, Wu Jing (Jacky Wu, of Sha Po Lang
, Legendary Assassin
etc...) has a supporting role in the film. I love Wu Jing, but
honestly, I wish they gave him more to do. He has a few action
sequences, but mostly he just chills out and prays. Another supporting
role went to none other than Jackie Chan, who plays a chef who couldn't
quite commit full time to the Shaolin ideal, but was down enough to hang
around and feed the brothers. Chan's appearances in the film are
sporadic, but when he does show up, he brings the goods. No matter how
inconsistent he gets in his Hollywood films, it seems we can count on
him to be the Jackie Chan we love when he's in his element. His
sequences are the ones that most stretch the viewers' suspension of
disbelief, but all is forgivable given the quality of his performance.
you know anything about the history of the Shaolin temple, you know
that it has been a target of rampaging warlords for centuries. This
film takes a fresh look at one of the many destructions of the Shaolin
temple, and does it with style and panache. Sure, there's a bit more
wire work than I'd prefer and it is a bit odd because not everyone was
speaking the same language on set and it had to be dubbed into Mandarin,
and every Anglo actor in the film is fucking atrocious, but these are
not major issues, and anyone familiar with the manner in which kung fu
film has been approached on western home video releases has had to deal
with much MUCH worse.
excellent example of the age old "destruction of the Shaolin Temple"
story. It has earned a place is that canon, and I'm sure I'll reach for
it again soon.
Well Go USA's presentation of Shaolin
in this collector's edition is quite handsome and packed with extras. I previously reviewed the UK Cine Asia release, and I must say that on close inspection, Well Go's disc seems to have noticeably better image quality. The image is marginally sharper, but there was a significant improvement in contrast and color on the US version. The disc looks outstanding. The sound was more of a wash, with both discs using DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio tracks that support this occasionally bombastic film nicely.
The extras are a bit more of a mixed bag. Both discs carry over the extras from the HK Blu-ray, including a 2 hour behind the scenes featurette, a 30 minute making-of feature, and a ton of interviews. The Well Go disc seems to have duplicated all of this material, and so I cannot declare a winner there. However, the UK disc does have two additional features that I felt were worthwhile, a look at Shaolin style wushu school in the US and Bey Logan's commentary, which are both exclusive to the UK. A completist would want both sets, but I have to call this one a draw. Well Go USA wins on image quality, and Cine Asia wins on extras. You decide which is more important.