Thursday, May 5, 2011
Of all this years lunar new year movies Shaolin was the one I was most looking forward to, with some real talent in front and behind the camera and a fantastic looking trailer I had really high hopes of an excellent movie. The movie has received some pretty good reviews but unfortunately I disagree with them.
Andy Lau stars as Hou Jie, a wealthy army general who loses everything when greed clouds his judgement, so busy is he with his own scheming he fails to notice events happening around him until its too late, as his right hand man Cao Man played by Nicholas Tse betrays him. As Hou Jie hits rock bottom, he seeks refuge in the Shaolin temple. While Cao Man searches for Hou Jie, Hou Jie rebuilds his life around the Shaolin monk philosophies.
Shaolin has many problems, the first one for me is Andy Lau. I like Andy Lau, I really do but I've always considered him a star more than an actor. The films he does his best work in are films like Infernal affairs and Running out of time, those two films are star vehicles, Andy gets to do his thing while other more capable actors do the real acting. It isn't that I think he cannot act, I just feel he is limited in his ability. This may seem a little harsh but I don't think he has the range to pull off the transformation the story arc of Shaolin requires, and that is a huge problem here. The screenplay is also at fault, the four credited writers for the movie give a disjointed feeling to the characters and storyline, but I'm convinced a more suitable actor could still have done a better job.
Nicholas Tse overacts throughout and unfortunately this role is a step backwards after some of the good work he has done recently, again some of this is down to how the character is written but Tse is way too far over the top to work as a serious villain. Jackie Chan has a supporting role as a cook, he puts in a solid performance as the man who helps Andy Lau on his road to redemption. Jackie has to have an action scene and you know its coming. Unfortunately its another flaw in the movie. It feels completely out of place as he helps a gang of kids fight off soldiers in his usual comedic style. The scene completely took me out of the film as its placed between much more dramatic scenes. It's a shame as up until that point his performance had worked very well and is a pointer for how his career could continue when he quits the action scene. Wu Jing puts in a solid performance as does Fan BingBing, although both should have been given more to do.
The scale of the movie is impressive, as are the sets and production design, it really looks the part in every department, it's in the drama and to an extent the action where the movie fails for me. Given the misgivings I mentioned about the screenplay I also have to question the direction of Benny Chan and the balance between action and drama. Bodyguards and assassins another recent big budget historical epic faced a fair amount of criticism on this balance (not to mention Leon Lai!) but I think that movie gets it spot on. When it comes to the finale of that film the editing between different character's scenes is just about perfect. In Shaolin this aspect is all wrong, the timing of the switching between scenes feels off.
The double/triple cross scene in the restaurant and the subsequent chase are really exciting and the best scenes in the movie, the rest of the action scenes are okay but nothing special. Given the events of the movie the viewer should be moved emotionally by the film but in this regard it falls completely flat.
Overall I found Shaolin to be a huge disappointment with actors miscast, a stumbling screenplay and mostly uninspiring action. As this years big historical epic this lags way behind Bodyguards and assassins, both emotionally and in terms of action.