Friday, April 6, 2012

Shaolin...

Yes... it is THAT amazing.

...An epic two-hour and 20 minutes self assessing, perspective gaining, strength/weakness illustrating tale of awesomeness and woe... and tears. This is NOT a "light-hearted comedy", nor is it your light weight Kung Fu film of good guys, bad guys, "the girl", punching, the hero, and then credits. Rather, this is a weighty film with a strong self convicting message, illustrated beautifully through the semi-fictional biographical story of General Hou Jie, a non-specific Chinese warlord. 

The reason I say "semi-fictional" is that warlords like this existed in prevalence during the Warlord period in China's recent history (1916-1928). 

ROC/ Republic of China Flag
Was General Hou Jie a real person? Likely. His character represents one of the many warlords in the Beiyang Government era. Is he a prominent player in modern Chinese warlord history, with an epic tale of destruction and rebirth? I dunno. We couldn't find any specific information on him. 

NONE-THE-LESS... his life makes for a great story. And this, my friends, is where we begin...

Shaolin is a 2011 release by director Benny Chan starring...

Andy Lau - Starring in over 146 films, beginning in 1982. He's an incredible talent that just ups the bar with each performances


Wu Xing - Having started his career in 2001, after having been a 32nd generation Shaolin monk (FOR REALZ!!), he's starred in over 12 titles, all of which are high action, punching, bone crushing, nose twisting (see our FlashPoint blog), etc. Yeah... THAT guy! We've got serious love for him, so naturally this film is awesome.

Jacky Wu
- Having started his martial arts career at the age of 6, he is NOTHING short of AWESOMAZING! His film career began in 1995, and since that time he has starred in over 24 films... including the most amazing fight scene E-V-A-R with our favorite... Donnie Yen. (swoon^2)

Jackie Chan - Honestly, he is an unrivaled classic. However, he plays a very shocking role in this film. I don't want to spoil it for you here... but your jaw will drop. Having starred in over 111 films since 1962, he's got this one. No worries.

Bingbing Fan - aka, "Oh, that amazingly beautiful woman that ALWAYS plays the trophy wife!" Yup, that's her. She began her film career in 1998 and has appeared in over  31 titles. Beautiful and talented, yes. A butt-kicker? Not normally. However, she lands some pretty sweet blows in this film!


These core folks are surrounded by a very talented cast of "OOooh THAT guy!"actors. i.e., that adorable guy with the perfectly symmetrical facial features (Shoaqun Yu), and that guy that looks like Jet Li, but isn't. (Xin Xin Xiong)

OK, we are NOW almost ready to actually talk about this film. However, we have one last disclaimer for you.
Please be kind... REWIND!!!


NOTE: When deciding to watch this film, don't do as Kelly does. We sat down with egg rolls and Chinese green tea in hand, hit play, and found ourselves 1/2 way through the movie watching a guy get launched a good 40 feet at top speed via flying kick to the face. If you want to know what led up to that epic flying maneuver... start the film from the beginning. We're just sayin'.



AND NOW ON TO THE MOVIE!!!

Our film opens on a scene of devastation, death, ruin, mud, overcast skies... all around misery. As the camera pans, we happen upon a small band of monks gathering up the bodies of the dead and preparing them for a mass cremation. They are deeply saddened by the state of Dengfeng City and the entire nation which is being torn apart by warlords even as foreign powers are threatening to invade. Their people are starving, will have nowhere warm to sleep in the coming winter, and are being killed daily in battles over territory and pride.

Yeah... we're just two minutes into the film here. We TOLD you this was heavy.

On a particularly dreary day in Dengfeng, opposing warlords Hou Jie and Huo Long have decided it's a good day for chaos and destruction. The warlords lead their armies on a wild rampage through the city, during which Huo Long is mortally wounded by Hou Jie. Knowing he has lost the battle for Dengfeng, Huo Long seeks sanctuary with the monks in the Shaolin Temple. Hou Jie and his lemming, Cao Man, track Huo Long down in the temple (the little mini fight between Cao Man and one of the monks is both impressive AND funny, especially the "I'm just gonna take a nap if that's all you got..." move). The Abbot asks Hou Jie to show compassion, and Huo Long makes one final plea for his life, handing over a map to all of his gold. Hou Jie makes as if he is going to leave, then turns and shoots Huo Long in the back, also injuring the Abbot. In the commotion, Hou Jie defaces the temple's sign, and leaves as the self-proclaimed victor... Albeit the cowardly, gun-wielding, jerk victor.

IN YOUR FACE MONKS!!!

Things are never over for these warlords... Much like the game of RISK, you win territory just to have it immediately threatened and recaptured. So, as Hou Jie heads to his victory jaunt, he runs into another warlord, Song Hu, who is Hou Jie's sworn brother. A tense conversation ensues between the men regarding the sharing of the spoils from Dengfeng, Song Hu mentions the possibiility of an arranged marriage between their kids, Hou Jie is left a little uncomfortable, then goes on his way.

In the midst of all this mess, the British try to weasel their way into the mix by offering Hou Jie automatic weapons in return for allowing them to build their railroad through Dengfeng city. He doesn't so much like that idea, and turns them away, embarrassing Cao Man (whose hair just keeps getting a little more emo with every scene) in the process.  He then instructs Cao Man to deliver an invitation to Song Hu and his family to discuss the arranged marriage of their children that he didn't appear to want 10 minutes ago, apparently in an attempt to keep Song from accepting advanced weaponry from those brutish British.
Stages of Hair: a) military, b) Emo Rising, c) Quasi-Emo, d) Emo is Born
One heart-wrenching family scene later, Hou Jie decides to flip the script and turn his invitation into a trap where-upon he will CRUSH General Song and his family. The families sit down for dinner in slow motion, which is universal film language for "something terrible is going to happen", and begin discussing their futures. Song tells Hou Jie in a moment of generosity that there is no longer any need for them to fight over Dengfeng city, since all of the spoils will be left to their children anyway. And now Hou Jie feels pretty stupid, right? Not as stupid as he does two minutes later when someone delivers a note to Song letting him know there is an ambush planned.

D'OH!!!! YOU HEEL!!!

In a moment of panic, Hou Jie shoots Song in the chest, only to find moments later that he has also been betrayed by the increasingly emo Cao Man. Assassins descend on the restaurant with orders to kill everyone inside. But... Oh wait! With his dying breath, Song sits up and shoots one of the attackers, allowing Hou Jie to escape! Now you KNOW he feels salty.

In some incredibly tense scenes full of terrible horror and despair, Hou Jie and his wife barely escape with their lives, but his daughter is severely injured. He brings her to the Shaolin monks, who despite his previous disrespect for life and their temple, attempt to save his daughter, but quickly find that she is beyond their help. Hou Jie's daughter dies in the temple (insert crying moment here), and her mother immediately whigs out on Hou Jie (wouldn't you?) blaming him for her death with all his pillaging and generalized jackassery. He, on the other hand, blames the monks (because that makes perfect sense...) and lashes out that them in a pitiful display of more jackassery. Because he hasn't learned his lesson. Yet. The monks easily bring him down with their awesome sticks of awesomeness, and set him aside to sleep it off for a few days.


Life just gets worse for Hou Jie when he wakes up and wanders away from the monastery, falling in a hole in the middle of a field (HA!). Wait... whose that guy manning the hole? That's not... can it be?  DUDE! It's Jackie Freakin' Chan! Well, ok... it's Wudao, the temple cook (but it's Jackie Chan!). Wudao keeps him in the hole for a few days for good measure (he feeds him, of course) and then brings him home. You can tell they're going to be friends, because when he gets him home, Wudao says to Hou Jie, "Here's a bowl of noodles. By the way, do you wanted your daughter buried, or cremated? 'Cuz when you're done with those noodles you may have to light a bonfire."

Seriously. Regular friends tell you that your butt is in fact fat in those pants your wearing... so yeah. Only a true friend could be THAT real and raw with you regarding your dead child.


So Hou Jie has his daughter cremated, his wife has already left the temple, and now he has a lot of spare time on his hands, what with having his career in highly specialized jackassery blow up in his face. So he thinks, and he thinks, and he thinks and thinks, and gets some crazy awesome advice from Wudao. Finally feeling like the dirt bag that he is, Hou Jie decides to become a monk and chops off all his hair (that hair part doesn't go so hot). Most of the monks don't want to let him in, but the Abbot decides to show Hou Jie the compassion he lacked and allows him to stay, assigning him to Wudao to assist with the cooking.

Jackie Wu and his all sorts of awesome.
You ready for the cuteness? 'Cuz this gets about as cute as a martial arts movie can. If you can't feel the smile forming on your lips and the gladness in your heart as Hou Jie comes to understand just how wrong he has been and learns the beautiful ways of these Shaolin monks, you either weren't paying attention for the first hour, or you are completely heartless. If you're a sap like MJ, you'll tear up a little, and feel all shivery with goodness. The monks, seeing the obvious change in his heart, come to accept Hou Jie, teaching him everything he wants to learn... including how to be a totally righteous kung fu fighting dude.
Far too heart warming for words.
No, really. It is.


Oh! Oh! And insert completely adorable scene of Hou Jie training with a little boy from the temple, and the Abbot telling Wudao that even though he sees himself as only a cook, everyone has a greater purpose, and now we feel totally gooey and melty inside.

Watch their faces. The fear is PRICELESS!

So, cut to Cao (because you knew the "good-times" high couldn't last long), whose emo hair is now apparently impeding both his vision AND his judgement, because he's made a deal with the British allowing them to build their railroad. OH, and remember that flying kick Kelly accidentally started at? Yeah, that's here, when the other warlords try to walk out of a meeting with Cao and his new foreign friends. He will apparently not be taking crap from nobody.



 When Hou Jie hears of Cao's plans, he heads out to investigate, only to find that Cao is actually forcing the people of Dengfeng to dig up ancient relics to be given to the British in exchange for guns and ammunition, and then killing them to keep his ulterior motives a secret. As he investigates, Hou Jie is recognized, and it is only a matter of time before it gets back to Cao that he is alive and well.

Then there is more crying in a touching scene where Hou Jie is formally accepted into the order of monks and given the religious name Jingjou, or Pure Enlightenment (Akk! Can't stop the tears!). Then Cao, because he ruins everything in this movie, rides his horse into the temple with about a billion of his men looking for Hou Jie, who gives him a good hard well-deserved smack across the face. TRUST ME... even I felt better after watching that.


Hou Jie then surrenders to Cao in an attempt to create enough of a diversion that the other monks will more easily be able to rescue the remaining "railroad workers" before they are killed. BUT, in a twist of fate we find out that Cao, dastardly man that he is, has captured Hou Jie's wife and plans to kill her in front of him for kicks.

INSERT MORE TEARS

Hou Jie tells his wife he knows how wrong he was (oh God... make it stop...) while the monks successfully save the missing villagers AND steal Cao's treasure.

TAKE THAT,  JERKFACE!!!

Oh, and they rescue Hou Jie and his wife at the last second in an amazing feat of Shaolin excellence. So Cao is officially having a terrible day now. Then there's more crying (Seriously, this film does not quit)...as the monks are escaping Cao's headquarters, their senior brother Jingneng (Jacky Wu) becomes trapped inside and is brutally murdered by Cao in an extremely brutal, but oddly "EAT IT CAO" sort of way.

Back at the Shaolin temple, the Abbot has been tied up and is being guarded by Cao's army...

And now for MJ's hands-down favorite scene in the film:

Some children from the temple attempt to bring food out to the Abbot and the other villagers, and the guards begin shooting at them. Just when these boys turn on their most adorable charm and it looks like they are going to get through... an officer shoots a guard who has accepted a bun from one of the children, and they are forced to unleash the cutest temple-kid fury ever in the history of ever!!! (Little bald temple monk babies running all over brutally kicking butt!!) Their tiny little martial arts skills are incredible. Aaaaaand adorable.


And then there's the Jackie Chan bit that we don't want to spoil for you but we know you will thoroughly enjoy, especially the noodle thing.

Perhaps one of the funniest lines in the movie.
So the Abbot is freed, and the remaining monks return home with the missing villagers. More crying (how many boxes of tissues is that now?), and as they mourn the loss of their elder brother the monks decide that it would be best to evacuate the temple and the surrounding city. Hou Jie asks Wudao to lead the people away from the temple, and they begin their evacuation just as Cao and his crazies (The English included) show up and begin blowing the temple to smithereens.

An epic battle rages on the grounds of the temple, and Cao (who now looks like he hired Prince's stylist and wardrobe people) and Hou Jie have the ultimate showdown between good and evil. You will see 3 of the most incredible death scenes EVAR ('splosions! Spinny swords! Crushiness!AAAAAAaaa...), a British general speaking with an entirely undefinable accent that is most definitely not British, and enough emotional baggage to keep you sobbing in a curled up mess on your floor for at least a week!

In the end, EVERYTHING is pretty much destroyed, Hou dies in an epic death scene not soon to be forgotten, Cao becomes enlightened as to his generalized jackassery, and you just about unravel over the whole mess. Between the final resolution, the sobbing Chinese refugees, the soundtrack, and Jackie Chan's final sentence, you will be deeply moved with all of its haunting beauty, and parallels, and ...   

No, we're not being overly dramatic.



So to recap, this movie is SAD. Beautiful, wonderful, most definitely worth watching, but terribly, terribly, gut-wrenchingly emotional and sad. And best yet, it's available for instant viewing on Netflix, so you can torture yourself again and again, like we did. Now if you'll pardon us, we just need to go brew another pot of tea, apply a cold compress and cucumbers to our puffy eyes, and contemplate life for a bit. Uff dah.

Yours pathetically,

The Mavens

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