Shaolin (UK - BD RB)
Reviewer Marcus shaves his head and joins a temple full of kick ass monks...
China's last imperial Dynasty has fallen and a ruthless warlord Huo Jie (Andy Lau) amasses a vast fortune through the violent subjugation of his people. Faced with a brutal betrayal, he runs for his life, seeking redemption in the fabled Shaolin Temple. When his enemies discover his location, he must stand with his new brothers and fight his life's greatest battle...
Shaolin is a solid albeit pretty darn routine martial arts affair with a pretty strong central struggle between evil general turned Shaolin Huo Long and his second in command and even more evil Cao Man (Nicholas Tse). Of course the martial arts on display, that's heavily wire-work based here, is far from routine but there’s something about the tried and tested path to zen and overcoming previous bad deeds that felt a little too obvious here and it didn’t really click with me this time out, even if it is all tied up in a pretty kicking and punching bow.
The movie does have its highlights though. Jackie Chan’s small role is a delightful bit of screen time, with Jackie giving some real warmth to Hou Jie’s situation. A lot of the Shaolin visuals are stunning to watch and the final battle is pretty epic in its combination of exploding temples, fights, master shaolin going all Yoda and kicking ass and all leading quickly to the final face off between Huo Jie and Coa Man. The visuals of grey war monger vs golden peaceful warrior is used for all its worth and even if the runtime for the entire movie felt a tad overlong to me, especially aroundt the midway point, the final coming together of the two enemies really made everything pay off.
As I mentioned there’s a distinct two colour battle going on here. The grey, depressing world of war and the golden warmth of the shaolin. Both elements are beautifully presented. The image is clean, brimming with fine detail and little touches really make this HD release shine. From the first scene you’ll see the fantastic set dressing and every detail of it is sharp and impressive. Everything from gravel to skin textures looks great. Then as the movie goes on we start seeing almost every fibre in the shaolin’s robes or soldiers uniforms. The general’s red collar pops off the screen in one scene and then when he’s adorned in his ceremonial golden uniform he almost feels 3D in comparison to the grey world around him. There’s really not a lot of bad to highlight here, Shaolin looks spectacular throughout and when the combination of high kicking warriors, machine guns, swords and explosions hits its peaks this HD transfer really shows off its striking visuals.
Outside of the awful slightly out of sync voice recording that always bugs me but makes the audio sound crisp and strong (despite always making it feel odd) Shaolin is a mixed affair of audio strengths. The movie can feel a little too quiet in places only to have a subtle chime or voice spring it back to life. Countering that, the punchy punches and flying kicks hammer with a nice level of heavy bass and the odd bit of machine gun fire rattles with real aggression, filling the DTS-HD Master Audio track. The score is also a strong presence in the track but it’s a little samey throughout and not all that dynamic even in the more action based scenes. Shaolin gets the job done and really well in areas but it felt a little bit too straight forward and typical of the genre and never really excelled or stuck out amongst the crowd of many of my recent martial arts viewings.
Hong Kong Cinema Expert Bey Logan’s commentary is his usual radio friendly approach, packed with plenty of detail for pretty much every visual on the screen at any time. I really enjoy these tracks as they offer up history on martial arts, films and TV in the genre and the actors. Logan’s level of detail covers everything and this really feels like a mini lesson in a wide range of elements.
The making of gallery starts with ‘The Sprit of Martial Zen’ (02:02 SD) and ‘Real Kung Fu is King’ (02:02 SD) two short looks at the importance of using real masters and the spiritual background to the Shaolin way.
The Making of (23:51 SD) is mostly voice over with lots of raw shots from the making of the film (seeing all those wires everywhere is pretty funny). All the stars are featured and all it’s a nice overview of the project and the subject matter.
‘Reconstructing the Shaolin Temple’ (02:02 SD), ‘The Iron Triangle of Kung Fu’ (02:02 SD), ‘Riding Out the Danger’ (02;02 SD) ‘The Director’s Notes’ (02:02 SD) , ‘The Little Monks of Shaolin’ (02:02 SD) and ‘Behind the Cameras, The Challenges’ ( 02:02 SD) round up the ‘Gallery’ of making ofs and offer short looks at other specific areas of the production.
The interviews gallery features loads of interviews with all the stars and the director and reach well over an hour in length. All are presented in standard definition and range from quick minute and a half segments to 25 minutes in length.
The behind the scenes gallery is split into 20 selections and small snippets of on set footage. This also has some snippets listed as ‘deleted scenes', though you can see the cameras filming the action, so I guess it’s a deleted scene in its rawest form. As for the actual deleted deleted scnes there are 10 to select.
The Cine-Asia exclusive ‘Shaolin Wushu in Action’ (32:56 HD) is genuine martial arts guys and gals giving us insight for the Wushu style and show off their stuff (all intercut with clips from the movie). There’s a lot of history praising the fighting skill and it's a good look at the art form.
Last up there’s the trailer gallery featuring four trailers for this film as well as the usual ‘also available’ selections with other great Cine-Asia titles.
Shaolin was a solid martial arts drama but it didn’t quite have that spark to make it stick out from the crowd for me, even if some of the fighting really did. The cast were pretty great all round (I especially liked Nicholas Tse’s baddie and Jackie Chan’s little stint) and the action was top notch too (even if the wire work felt a little too wirey in places). The Blu-ray itself has a fantastic video presentation, some strong audio and the usual Cine-Asia extras that don’t really leave a stone unturned, so overall this is a great Blu-ray package.
* Note: The below images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 12th September 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Manderin, Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Extras: Commentary, Making ofs, Deleted Scnes, Behind the Scnes, Interviews,Shaolin Wushu In Action - Cine Asia Exclusive, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Benny Chan
Cast: Andy Lau, Nicholas Tse, Bingbing Fan, Jackie Chan,
Genre: Action and Drama
Length: 131 minutes
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