Directed by Benny Chan

Eternal values, amped up with the historical costume drama of ancient feuding warlords and Shaolin monks fervidly schooled in the martial arts. Lovely ladies (one of the loveliest here: Fan Bingbing), exquisitely choreographed fight scenes–no special effects needed, as the timing and precision movements are impeccably performed throughout this rev-tempo film–and scripting that evokes empathy, enraptured involvement, sadness, awe from time to time, even tears. The monks are experts in fighting, but deeply compassionate and committed, to aiding the weak and hungry… and to not killing.

Stern, uncompromising General Hou (Andy Lau) opens the hostilities with his violence and take-no-prisoners ruthlessness in the place of no killing, the shaolin temple. Betrayed by fellow General Cao Man (Nicholas Tse), Hou is forced into monkish hiding at the Shaolins' hidden mountain retreat. Through his daily working with martial Zen, he expiates his furies and rage, though that does not deflect the vengeful tactics of his former 'brother' in arms, Cao.

'Brother' fighters fight over the conquest of a city, a gold purse handsome enough for many cannon, instant betrothals, and dominance issues. Children are involved, piteously requiring protection and succor. Gorgeous monasteries vie with mountain vistas and misty fortresses. Explosions. Swordplay. Chariot chases along narrow crevasse passes with uncertain footing. Knives and guns. (What could be bad?)

A peak experience, as one of my husbands used to opine, also includes the pleasure of a classic genial pixie we all love: Jackie Chan, playing a cook who knows from nothing in the martial arts. His bonhomie is infectious, he is willing to be as shabby as a bumpkin cook can look, in ramshackle outfits and even more mote-inflected venues–the casting is a knockout.

Strong men. Powerful images. A satisfying fight movie (a touch too long, but never mind) for kids, teens and adults who are enamored of the shaolin life, rigorous discipline and masterful boxing.

And the one geyjin in the film, a bearded Anglo gun merchant who speaks immaculate Mandarin, speaks one line in English during the 2 1/4 hrs. What is funny is that his crystal-clear English is subtitled–in English. Flash: Did they mean to subtitle it for Asian viewers into Chinese?

Zie chi'en — be good, so long. Don't bring the littlest. But for the King Fu, Tai Chi or Krav Maga addicts amongst you, this is a meaty if sanguinary entrée.


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