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Shaolin

Year: 2011
Production Co: Beijing Silver Moon Productions
Director: Benny Chan
Producer: Benny Chan
Writer: Zhang Tan
Cast: Andy Lau, Nicholas Tse, Jackie Chan

One thing Chinese directors don't get is subtlety. The plunge of every sword, the liberal dosages of claret and the emotional agony felt by the characters are all turned way up to eleven, leaving you with a rich and multi-faceted but slightly overblown film in this case.

None of which is to say it isn't thrilling, action packed, spectacular or satisfying. Or bloodthirsty – in the opposite of the old Star Trek trope where some nameless extra strolls into the action just to get killed, here every single lead character apart from one winds up dying violently, all of them with the Hollywood-style final minute to impart some profound words of wisdom.

It seems to be the immediate post World War 1 period and China is a land of local warlords all trying to take each other's slice of countryside while the peasants suffer and die from the many battles. Meanwhile the famous Shaolin temple monks train, commune with nature and take care of the poor in the village around them, but fearsome General Hou (Lau) defiles the sacred ground by pursuing an enemy inside with his slimy second in command Cao Man to kill him.

In an intended coup with a close associate later on (resulting in a thrilling skirmish at a restaurant) Cao betrays Hou to his enemy and after the battle the latter takes off in a carriage chase that sees his daughter badly hurt. The shoe's on the other foot when he brings the injured girl to the temple, pleading with the monks to help her. When they try but fail, he's so touched by their acceptance and humility and so aggrieved by the results of his warlike past he abandons his military ambitions and joins them.

But with his boss out of the way, Cao turns into an even more fearsome despot, amping up the violence and striking deals with foreign powers to consolidate his position even though they'll strip-mine China for their own ends.

Guided by the kindly abbott, martial artist monks and the lovable temple chef (Chan), Hou learns to gradually find peace with the world, but Cao isn't going to give up his search to become the most powerful warlord in memory, and he's going to bring the fight right to the temple door.

Full of frenetic chop socky, sweeping battles and not scrimping on violence in the least, it's a heartfelt film of many moods and tones and a cracking tale of love, forgiveness, revenge and war that packs almost everything (successfully, I might add) in except restraint.

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