The story revolves around Hou Chieh (Andy Lau), a warlord who has just taken over the area of Tengfeng with the help of his lieutenant Tsao Man (Nicholas Tse). However, to achieve his goal, he is forced to kill the general in charge of the area at the Shaolin Temple. This action does not bode well with the monks who live in the temple.
However, Hou’s next plan backfires when he assassinates a longtime rival general. In the chaos that ensues, Hou is seriously injured along with his wife (Fan Bingbing) and his young daughter Nan (Runa Shimada). When Hou has no other choice but to go to the Shaolin Temple, monk Chingneng (Wu Jing) unsuccessfully saves Nan, forcing Madam Hou to confront her husband for his wrongdoing. Having left him, Hou decides to stay at the temple and learn the errors of his way. However, he cannot do it alone and seeks the aid of Wudao (Jackie Chan), the cook of the temple.
It is soon revealed that the entire setup on Hou was created by Tsao Man, who had grown tired of following Hou and seeks the power he feels he deserves. He begins a reign of terror where he forces villagers dead and upon learning of Hou still alive, demands he be found. Meanwhile, Hou slowly begins to realize his wrongdoing and begins to embrace the spirit of Buddha and Shaolin with the help of Chingneng, Chinghai (Yu Shaoqun), and Chingkung (Shi Yanneng, formerly known as Xing Yu). When Tsao plans to destroy the Shaolin Temple, Hou must lead a defensive attack with his fellow monks and face off against his one-time friend in a fight to the finish.
Originally perceived as a remake to SHAOLIN TEMPLE, the 1981 film that launched international action star and martial artist Jet Li, the film goes from revenge for the hero’s father to a story of a man’s existence from a power hungry general to one who truly finds himself in the midst of a potential war. However, like the 1981 film, the film was given permission to shoot at the actual Shaolin Temple with the cooperation of the Shaolin Temple members themselves. Alan Yuen, director Benny Chan’s collaborator and screenwriter for NEW POLICE STORY (2004) and ROB-B-HOOD (2006) came up with the original screenplay before being rewritten by others to construct an elaborate storyline.
Andy Lau gives out another career-defining performance as the man who finds himself and seeks a path of enlightenment after living a virtual lifetime of violence. One that has cost him his marriage and the life of his young daughter. Lau truly shows why he is one of the best Hong Kong dramatic actors today with his amazing thespian skills. As for former teen idol Nicholas Tse, he wows on the screen as Hou’s one time friend turned rival Tsao Man. Tse churns out a terrific performance as a man who feels held back and has to betray his friend to gain the power he feels he deserves.
While Jackie Chan makes an extended cameo and has a fight scene as Shaolin Temple cook Wudao, Lau’s new friends are played well by wushu wunderkind Wu Jing (FATAL CONTACT), former Shaolin monk turned action star Shi Yanneng (KUNG FU HUSTLE), and actor Yu Shaoqun. The trio do well as monks who at first feel ashamed of Hou’s previous actions but with the guidance of the Abbot, become friends with the former warlord. The Abbot himself is well played by Yu Hai, a wushu and longfist champion who co-starred in the original SHAOLIN TEMPLE with Jet Li.
Hong Kong action legend Corey Yuen served as the film’s action director with longtime Yuen collaborator Richard “Yuen Tak” Hung and former Jackie Chan Stunt Team leader Nicky Li handling the action choreography. To prepare for his action scenes, Andy Lau studied Seven-Star Long Fist from real-life Shaolin monk Shi Yongxin while the rest of the cast look impressive, even with some wire enhancements. As mentioned, Jackie Chan himself gets a fight scene and it is a very nice one. From the looks of the particular movements, it looks like Chan’s fight scene was choreographed by Nicky Li while Corey Yuen and Richard Hung handled the rest. The former “Clubfoot”, Xiong Xin-Xin even makes a huge impact as Tsao’s lieutenant Solungto while XANDA (2003) star Willem Sang plays another henchman of Tsao and gets in on some action against Lau.
Truly one of the best action films of Hong Kong this year, SHAOLIN proves that action films can have a sensible plot done well should they have a great cast to work with. Andy Lau and Nicholas Tse are in top form and even Jackie Chan gets a hand in the action and dramatic scenes. Truly a delight to watch and worth a rental or even a purchase.