This classic kung fu film broke ground as one of the first films of the genre to be approved by the Mainland Chinese government. It would also mark the film debut of one of today’s action legends, Jet Li.
Jue Yuan, who has joined the Shaolin Temple to become a fully-fledged monk, must follow certain rules in order to be accepted as a member of the temple. When he hears that he will not be allowed to kill, he begins a flashback that sets the stage as to how he will eventually become a Shaolin Temple monk.
Jue, a young teenager, is a rebel against a tyrant by the name of Wang Sichong. When they are held captive by Wang and his men, Jue’s father sees one of the officers beat an old slave and proceeds to use his kicking skills to defeat the officer. However, this attracts the attention of General Wang Renze (Sichong’s nephew), who proceeds to kill Jue’s father. An attempt to avenge his father leaves Jue Yuan nearly killed as he plunges into the river. There, he is rescued by some of the monks of the Shaolin Temple. At first, he is somewhat unaccepted due to the fact that he only has vengeance on his mind. After becoming a junior monk, he begins training in Northern Shaolin Kung Fu. Despite a failed attempt at revenge, Jue decides to seriously train and in the process, assists another rebel, Li Shiming, when he is wanted by Wang and his men as Li may be the one who can overthrow Wang himself. When Wang wages war on the Shaolin Temple, the monks must now do what they can to protect the temple.
There have been films revolving around legends of the Shaolin Temple, considered the birthplace of martial arts. However, this is perhaps the first film that not only was given full approval by Mainland China, but it is the first film to be shot at the actual Shaolin Temple, located in Mount Song in Henan. This film is actually based on a legend set during the Tang Dynasty, when the monks rallied with future Emperor Taizong in a campaign against Wang Sichong.
The film’s cast is comprised of real-life martial arts champions who trained in acting for the film. The star of the film is a young wushu champion named Li Lianjie, who won numerous medals and even performed for former President Nixon in 1974 when Nixon visited China. This young athlete would later be given the moniker he is known for today, Jet Li. Li, who was only eighteen when he began shooting the film, makes quite the impressive debut. Under the tutelage of director Cheung, Li is able to play a young man torn between revenge and enlightenment when he joins the Shaolin Temple quite impressively.
With the performances of the main cast, one would never expect that these champions can pull it off quite well as first-time actors. However, they did quite a great job. Yu Hoi plays Jue’s sifu (teacher) with a little bit of comical farce at times along with some of the other cast members playing junior monks. The late Yu Chenghui makes a very exciting villain in General Wang Renze and the sword-fighting legend gets to show off his impeccable weapon skills. One of his cohorts is played by Ji Chunhua, who would go on to play many villains in later martial arts films and just shows why this actor is destined to play villains despite his off-screen good nature.
The wushu champion team of Yu Hoi, Ma Yin-Tat, Pan Qingfu, and Wong Seung-Hoi were responsible for the film’s exciting action and training sequences. However, what many will not realize is that Cheung brought in a true legend to choreograph one particular training sequence that would be known as the “four seasons”. In this particular scene, Jet Li trains in various weapons throughout the four seasons of the year, showcasing his improvement and excellence in kung fu. Who is this mystery person? It is none other than the Shaw Brothers legend himself, Master Lau Kar-Leung, who would go on to direct the final installment of Li’s Shaolin Temple trilogy, Martial Arts of Shaolin, in 1986. As for the rest of the film’s action scenes, the cast shows why they were ranked as some of the top martial arts champions in Mainland China. Aside from some amazing weaponry skills, the cast perform some amazing acrobatic feats when needed.
If you are a Jet Li fan or a martial arts film fan in general, then it is worth checking out Shaolin Temple as it is an impressive classic that features wushu at its finest.
WFG RATING: A
A Chung Yuen Motion Picture (HK) Ltd. Production. Director:Cheung Sing-Yim. Producer: Liao Yiyuan. Writers: Sit Hau and Lo Siu-Cheung. Cinematography: Liu Feng-Lin and Kwok Siu-Yuk. Editing: Cheung Sing-Yim, Huang Ting, Lee Yuk-Wai, and Koo Chi-Wai.
Cast: Jet Li, Yu Hoi, Yu Chenghui, Ding Lam, Hu Jianqiang, Sun Jiankui, Liu Huailiang, Ji Chunhua, Zhang Jianwen, Yan Dihua.