Thursday, 2 August 2007

The Shaolin Temple (1982)

In terms of plot, characters development, and choreography that looks good and entertainment on the screen, Mainland China is still a long way – even today – in catching up with HK’s kungfu flicks.

The Shaolin Temple (1982)Having said that, what this film that distinguished it from all HK kungfu flicks ever made before or ever since is the authenticity.

It was filmed in the actual Shaolin Temple, which opened to this film briefly after PRC’s Opening-Up (1978). And it was the only film, as far as I know, that could make this claim. As seen in the movie, even the General isn’t allowed to enter the Pagoda Forest in Shaolin Temple. Indeed, tourists today could only view the many Pagodas from a distance outside the parameter. And yet, cameras were obvious allowed to enter this sacred ground in this movie. As are the dented floors that caused by the countless generations of stamping feet of Shaolin training. This is also off limit to tourists (I asked my tour guide, she said ‘no go’).

It isn’t just the film location that is not only authentic, but one off, the wushu we see in this movie is also genuine. They were performed by actual Shaolin monks. We could now watch their performances, many similar to those in the movie, live on stage around the world. I watched their performance on stage 1st time in Sydney in 2007 (from memory), 2nd time in Singapore, and 3rd time in Shaolin Temple ground (it was actually performed by trainees. The best ones are performed on stages outside China) in 2012.

This kinda authenticity is very typical of the art-house/social dramas directed by 5th generation, the 1st group of directors (the likes of Zhang Yimou, Li Yang, etc) after the Opening-Up, using real people and locations in their movies. I didn’t expect this occurs in kungfu movies too. But then, why not?

Before this movie Jet Li was known as China National Wushu Champion of 1978. After this movie, his career as kungfu action superstar was kicked off like only he could with his legs. And this turning point was even dramatic with the opening up of the Shaolin Temple itself. Before, they only taught wushu to Shaolin monks. Now, anybody could go there and learn, and the temple is always noisy and crowded with tourists. The temple looks much better in the film without the throng of tourists.

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