A Double Dose Of Redemption: Shaolin And The Warrior’s Way

9 02 2011

Redemption’s one of those universal themes. Everyone likes the idea of becoming better – of being cleansed of the past. It resonates well with any audience. That’s why we’ve got tons of movies about that hitman trying to make good – all the way from John Woo’s The Killer to the Pang brother’s Bangkok Dangerous (both Nic Cage and non-Nic Cage version). Ironically enough, the road to redemption seems to be as bloody as the road from it.

Aaaanyway, that’s enough of that – we’re here to talk about two movies I watched recently: Benny Chan’s Andy Lau-helmed Shaolin and the international Korean production The Warrior’s Way. These two are so damn different that you’ll have a mood whiplash if you watch them back-to-back – they both have two takes on the redemption theme. But what they do they have in common is this: a horrible, horrible local marketing campaign, and buckets of blood. Not just buckets – drums and gallons of the red stuff is thrown around on the screen as if it were an Jackson Pollock canvas.

The marketing was the usual for obscure films – namely those that don’t come from big studios – in the Philippines: low-key and sometimes blatant misinformation. That’s the reason why I used the foreign posters. I mean, really, if the guys who made the flick had a great set of promo pics – use them. Thankfully, I knew of two these from foreign film sites, namely the guys at Twitch.

To make a long story short, I scoured the local listings for where and when and went to Megamall to savor some chop-socky action. I wasn’t disappointed and I was even pleasantly surprised.

Shaolin is a great ensemble movie – but what really brings it to life is Andy Lau. Andy’s been a mainstay of HK films since I was a toddler – his enduring popularity a proof of the man’s charisma. The great thing is that he can also act – as proven in his star turns in Infernal Affairs and House of Flying Daggers. Wu Jing, Fan Bingbing, Nicholas Tse, and an extended cameo by Jacky Chan round out the star-studded cast – and all of them are pretty much put to good use. Andy Lau’s the warlord Hou Chieh in early 20th century China and he’s on top of the world – married to Fan Bingbing, ruling his own little corner of China, a pretty daughter, and Nicholas Tse as his lapdog/toady. Of course, he’s had to kill a lot of people to get there – but hey, everything’s fine as long as he’s on top. Of course, we all know where this is going…

So as to avoid the spoilers – he ends up in the Shaolin temple and ends up becoming a monk. And, yes, as everyone knows, his past catches up with him. The way I describe it may seem like it’s rather paint-by-numbers – but when you watch a movie, you watch it for visuals; at least, that’s what I do. If you’re familiar with kamishibai or shadow puppets, you know that it’s how the story that is presented that sometimes matters. However, don’t worry – no plot holes in this here film. It’s actually a pretty trimmed down piece, honed and sharpened to deliver the climax – and trust me it is climactic both emotionally and plot-wise. The word to best describe it is “cathartic”.

Of course, in a movie that boasts over fifty real Shaolin monks as participating – along with Jacky Chan – you will expect fights galore. It doesn’t disappoint – acrobatic and well-choreographed by Corey Yuen, it also manages to infuse its kung fu battles with a spirituality that is near zen-like.

At its heart though, Shaolin is more like those old-time swords-and-sandals epics like Quo Vadis or Ben-Hur than Snake Over Eagle’s Shadow. You know, the ones with the Christian ending. Because, baby, this is a Buddhist movie and that ending shot of Andy Lau – pure spiritual poetry. Amituofu is a constant refrain in the film – mistakenly but also appropriately translated as “Buddha be praised”. I enjoyed it and it made me think – something which I try to avoid to do when watching movies.

Also, it has Fan Bingbing:

Yeah, reason enough to watch it and good enough to pay for a ticket – even if it was another extended cameo.

From a movie that required my conscious mind to work, we go to pure hind-brain cheesiness. The Warrior’s Way stars Korean heartthrob Jan Dong Gum – who was cruelly photoshopped out of local posters and replaced by the Ninja Gaiden guy- as an assassin who has a change of heart when he’s ordered to kill a baby, the last of his clan’s enemies. The Sad Flutes, his aforementioned employers, are not exactly pleased. It all ends in a town in the Old West, more sand than dirt, and the ending only needed some kid to cry  “Shane” to make it perfect.

The guys over at Twitch call it a Guksu Western – a play on the Italian spaghetti westerns of the 70s, Korean noodles substituting for the red-drenched pasta. It’s a pretty honest description – the script is not deep, the plot points can be predicted beforehand, and a lot of people die – either by getting shot or sliced. However, this is pure fairy tale or more properly tall tale as the opening narration by Geoffrey Rush hints at us. Sometimes you don’t get deep storytelling from fairy tales – what you do sometimes get is pure spectacle: the final setpiece battle for the town is pure eye candy and an adrenaline rush. Two words can be used to describe it: Ninjas versus cowboys. Yeah, the movie stumbles a bit, at times, but I can honestly say I got my money’s worth.

Plus Kate Bosworth is the hottest she’s been since Blue Crush:

Both films are still on at SM Megamall for those interested. Check with ClickTheCity for local times.

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