Prolific Hong Kong film-maker Benny Chan, the director of 22 movies since his début A Moment of Romance in 1990, delivers an updated take on Jet Li's first movie The Shaolin Temple (Chang Hsin-Yen, 1982) for his latest big screen venture. A two hour plus martial arts epic starring Andy Lau, Nicholas Tse and Jackie Chan, Shaolin, released in September on DVD, topped the Hong Kong, Thailand and Singapore box offices and broke the box office record in Malaysia on its release earlier in the year. This tale of feuding warlords and Shaolin monks in 1920s China is ravishing to behold, with extraordinarily impressive choreographed fight sequences, and is the equal of any Hollywood Blockbuster in terms of the scale of the project but it all feels too mainstream and perfunctory to really grab the viewer by the throat in the same fashion as Takashi Miike's 13 Assassins (2010)
Lau's General Hou Jie, ruthless and growing ever more powerful, is the central character who, after being usurped by his own second in command, Cao Man (Nicholas Tse), seeing his young daughter killed and his wife leave him, undergoes a Damascene conversion and turns to the Shaolin monks he had previously threatened with death for salvation. Jackie Chan's cook is charged with taking the once fearsome General, thought by Man to be dead, under his wing for training into the ways of the Shaolin and Zen Buddhism. Much soul searching and repentance is endured by Jie before Man's discovery that his one time leader is still alive ushers in a fresh wave of violent confrontation that threatens the very existence of the temple and its inhabitants.
Shaolin is entertaining enough but the narrative is a familiar one - good versus evil, a fallen man finds redemption, power corrupts - as are the character types, including Chan's partly comic, slightly dishevelled cook. The swelling orchestral score is too overbearing and at times sickly sentimental and the whole thing is constructed to appeal to a mass mainstream audience. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that, it just doesn't hit the spot for me as it all feels too predictable however extravagant and well directed, shot and acted the film is.