Set in Sui Dynasty 7th century, it tells the tale of slave's son Chieh Yuan (Jet Li) who flees to the Shaolin Buddhist temple in the wake of his father's murder by Wang Schiu-chang a warlord who has overthrown legitimate ruler Li Shih-min. Rigorous instruction in kung-fu and Buddhist philosophy follows before Chieh Yuan takes his vengeance.
“The Shaolin Temple is famous everywhere...The Shaolin
Temple is splendid". So goes the song that opens what's
simply one of the best martial arts pictures ever made. The
Shaolin Temple arrived six years after the death of Bruce Lee and
re-invigorated the kung-fu film in much the same way as Lee's
crossover hit The Big Boss had in 1969. Lame-name pretenders such
as Bruce Li, Bruce Ly and Bruce Leee (sic!) made failed attempts
to assume the crown before Jackie Chan in Hong Kong and 16 year-old
mainland sensation Jet Li arrived to breathe new life into the
staple form of Asian popular cinema.
He also engages in innocent romance with
pretty local girl Bai Wu-Xia (Ding Lan) whom he meets after
accidentally killing her dog and deciding to eat it. "Even a
celestial being would jump at eating dog meat," he says as
he roasts the unfortunate pooch.
The romance is sweet but that's not what we're really here for.
We're here to witness the astonishing moves of charismatic Jet Li
and a supporting cast of martial arts champions who stage some of
the greatest fight scenes you could ever wish to see. The
exercise routines of these Oriental supermen are just as
breathtaking as they bounce, leap and spin on their heads with a
mind-boggling flexibility that resembles an ancient version of
Crammed with elaborately staged and excitingly filmed action and
loaded with heavy doses of Buddhist teaching - "Buddha is
merciful, but not to evil ones" - this is a must, even if
you think you've seen it all. Excellent SBS subtitles embedded in
the black beneath the wide-screen frame rounds off the reasons to
add this genuine classic to the collection. Richard Kuipers