Reviewed by Alicia Glass
Review Rating: 8
In a time where warring feudal lords seek to separate China into their individual pieces, strife culminates around and finally in a famous Shaolin temple that’s just trying to stay at peace!
It’s a big epic moving piece of a film, but it is also Chinese, which means one thing – it’s tragic and sad, throughout most of the movie. Nearly every scene is fraught with death, betrayal, and overshadowed by a general sense of impending doom. Just bear that in mind.
So General Hou Jie (Andy Lau) starts off as just another warlord attempting to carve his own piece of the pie. Ruthless to the extreme, Hou Jie has no compunctions about invading the peaceful Shaolin temple to catch his prey, even unto murdering the wounded man on temple grounds, under the very eyes of the Master Shaolin Monk. Of course Hou Jie ends up paying a terrible betrayed price for his harshness – sought after by his own Second Cao Man (Nicholas Tse), his family is murdered and Hou Jie is forced to take refuge in the very Shaolin temple he so desecrated not too long ago. Inside the temple we find Jackie Chan as the cheerful and sympathetic cook Wudao, and he tries to help Hou Jie adjust to the ascetic life of a Shaolin Monk amid all his loss. The temple itself, and the lives the Monks live there are portrayed in beautiful long-action shots, and as far as I know, faithfully accurately represented. Unfortunately Cao Man is still on the outside and continuing where Hou Jie left off, cutting a murderous swath across China in his attempts at domination, and of course inevitably he gets to the Shaolin temple in due course. The Monks do their level best to get the common people saved, first sheltering them in the temple proper, and then attempting to cover their retreat into the mountains when the bad guy soldiers inevitably invade the temple itself. The whole thing culminates in one of the saddest and yet most beautiful what we call End-Fights I’ve ever seen, where a great many of the Monks we’ve grown to love lose their lives. At least they die fighting for what they’ve spent their lives believing in – peace and continued existence. Which is of course an irony, but one a great many Asian films are based on.
It’s a beautiful and moving film, if for no other reason than you want to protest the horrid treatment the Shaolin monks receive at the hands of, well, everyone it seems to me. Epic beauty, solid dramatic acting from an all-star cast, and bad-ass action choreography combine into a film worthy of watching – just bring tissues for the sympathetic tears.