A beautiful film on the theme of self-redemption, sprinkled with Buddhist philosophy and morality. A cliche theme in movies, but Shaolin still stands out, mostly because it is a rarity for a well-choreographed action film to be successfully balanced with a gripping story. There were some sniffs around the audience, and I reckon because of the presence of Andy Lau, who gave a convincing portrayal of a vicious warlord turn self-sacrificial monk, a la Angulimala in Budhist literature. A reminder that the latter makes for a perfect film material. Rare to see local movie reviewers coming into consensus to give Shaolin at least a 4 stars rating. It has been a long time since a Hong Kong film created waves.
To prepare himself for the role, Andy Lau reportedly went up into the real Shaolin for a retreat where he cut himself from the rest of the world and meditated for three days. Jackie Chan makes perfect comic timing. His cooking monk role is reminiscent of the 'more-than-meets-the-eye' monk character in Chinese literature. Think Jinyong's nameless Sweeper Monk in Demi-Gods and Semi-Demons.
The film is darker than Jet Li's double rendition, but less violent than Shaw's wuxia takes on the material. Tales of heroic Buddhist monks are common in societies where Buddhism is deeply entrenched. In the face of an invalid government, Buddhist monks in Myanmar took on the roles of building bridges and roads, operating hospitals and school. Even in 1940s Singapore, monks were persecuted by the invading Japanese for their relief efforts. A subject matter explored in my thesis film.