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.
Based loosely on the 1982 martial arts epic Shaolin Temple
, which helped to mint Jet Li as a star, this Hong Kong blockbuster from Benny Chan stars Andy Lau as a battle-weary warlord who finds refuge and then solace among the monks of a Shaolin temple. Set during the tumult of early Republican China, the story unfolds as Lau's warlord usurps his rivals, but at the cost of his daughter's life and his wife's loyalty. His spirit crushed, he decides to atone for his violent past by joining a Shaolin order (which counts Jackie Chan, in a glorified cameo, as its cook). Lau's path to enlightenment is cast into doubt when he discovers that his former second-in-command (Nicholas Tse, in an enjoyably overripe performance) has enslaved the local population and forced them to unearth relics in order to pay for greater weapons. Things naturally come to a head between Lau and Tse, but the film is less concerned with sprawling martial arts battles than the emotional conflicts between and within its major players. Honor, familial loyalty, remorse, and pursuit of spiritual wholeness are cornerstones of Hong Kong action films, but the depth of the performances and screenplay (by Alan Yuen) lends rich nuances to the subjects, often at the expense of adding an extra fight scene to the picture. That's perhaps a good thing, as martial arts choreographer Corey Yuen's usual pyrotechnics are hobbled somewhat by his leads, who are fine actors but only modest fighters, leaving the firepower to wushu champion Wu Jing as a Shaolin elder. Chan's formidable talents are used to underscore his comic contributions to the film, and as such, are only mildly entertaining. That's also how most martial arts fans will view Shaolin
, though those who value theme as well as action may find it a frequently thoughtful diversion. The Blu-ray collector's edition features a gallery of deleted scenes (mostly extended versions of scenes in the theatrical cut) and trailers, as well as a pair of by-the-books featurettes on the film's production. Slightly more interesting are a handful of interviews with the principals, which touch on the picture's historical basis and the '82 Li film, among other subjects. --Paul Gaita