Shaolin (2011)





Director:     Benny Chan.

Starring:     Shaoqun Yu (Chinghai), Chen Zhiui (Huo Lung), Yu Xing (Chingkun), Jacky Wu (Chingeng), Nicholas Tse (Tsao Man), Hai Yu (Abbot), Andy Lau (Hou Chieh / Chinochueh), Bingbing Fan (Madam Hou), Shimadu Runa (Nan), Shi Xiaohong (Sung Hu), Karl Robert Eislen (Peter), Alexander Mukhanov (Roddick), Shi Tianshuo (Officer Shi), Li Qilong (Huo's Officer), Jin Youming (Hou's Butler).

during Warlord Era (1911-1928) in 1928, warlord Shi You-san burned down 90% of the buildings at the Buddhist Shaolin Temple in Henan province; Shi was killed by his sworn brother and subordinate Gao Shu-xun



Spoiler Warning: 

"While the young Republic is in danger of being invaded by foreign powers, turf wars rage among warlords, creating hells on earth as her own people suffer."

City of Dengfeng, Henan, China." [Henan is located in the central part of the country.]

It looks like a large massacre has taken place along a dirt road.  The Buddhists are cleaning the site and burning the dead bodies.  They find someone that is still alive.  And yet, the killing is not over.  One group of troops is chasing after another and killing who they can manage to  hit with their rifle shots. 

Shaolin Temple.  The temple is feeding hundreds of refugees. Soldiers comes riding up to the temple.  They are searching for the officer that got away from them.  The searching soldiers are none to nice about their search either, destroying the small shelters that harbor a lot of refugees in the cold weather.  The soldiers are also randomly bayoneting people.  The escaping officer, Huo, in hiding now runs into the Shaolin Temple. 

The commander, named Cao, and some of his men ride right up and into the temple.  The monks tell them to get off the temple grounds, but the soldiers are not listening.  Some of the monks start to stop the soldiers by knocking the soldiers off their horses.  In the melee that follows the sign for "The World's School of Martial Arts" is knocked down.  The commander gets knocked off his horse by one monk and now they fight each other hand to hand.  Cao starts winning, but another monk joins in the fighting.  As the tables turn, the officer pulls out his pistol and stops the fighting.

Someone shouts that the General has arrived.  General Hou Jie tells the commander it's bad manners to use a gun when one side is unarmed and only using martial arts.  The head Buddhist explains that they must work to save the life of this man who is seeking sanctuary with them.  "Please show him some compassion."  The General replies:  "I will never sleep peacefully, whilst he's  alive."  The General acts like he will leave the man in the care of the temple, but tricks everyone and shoots the wanted man in the back after everyone relaxes.  The bullet goes through the man and into the arm of the head Buddhist, the Master.  

The monks return to their fighting stances.  The head Buddhist tells Jingeng and Jingkong to stand down!  Now the soldiers leave the temple. 

A band leads the march of soldiers into the city.  The warlord in a very fancy outfit is at the head of the parade of soldiers.  They run into another warlord, General Song, who the warlord refers to as a bastard and says he managed to avoid the fighting altogether.  The warlord tells General Song that Dengfeng City is theirs and Huo is dead.  General Song brags that he could have taken the man himself, single-handedly. 

Cao tests out a new machine gun.  It knocks down a target practice wall.  He tells the foreign officer that they will buy 80 of these guns.  The foreign officer says he doesn't want money.  He wants permission to build a railroad through Dengfeng  The warlord says he doesn't want the guns.  The foreign officer says then they will go ask permission from General Song, who surely will be interested in the guns.  The foreign officers start to leave, but Cao asks Sir Peter to wait a moment.  Cao tells Big Brother Hou that the guns are really good.  Big Brother throws smaller brother against a column and pins him there, while he tells his men to escort the officers out.   Big Brother says if his sworn brother wants to be the boss, then he should wait until he actually is the real boss. 

Hou says agreeing to build the railroad is just an invitation for the foreigners to take Chinese land for themselves.  Chinese land belongs to the Chinese.  Cao says he hopes Song feels the same way.  The warlord says that for 20 years Song has been his only sworn brother and he doesn't want Cao speaking badly about him. 

The war lord's daughter trips while running.  Father gets mad at the nanny and even asks her if she wants to die?  Nanny apologizes profusely even though she told the child not to run.  The daughter Nan asks her father to please not be mad at her nanny. 

Cao has the job of arranging a marriage between Song's son and Nan.  He tells Hou that he handed the dinner invitation to Song personally.   The man was delighted.  The warlord is pleased but he is also worried.  The warlord took Dengfeng City and he took Huo's gold.  He is sure that Song wants both Dengfeng City and the gold.  Therefore, he wants 30 crack soldiers at the restaurant.  He then says:  "I can't rest until he dies."

The warlord looks at two small pistols.  His wife sees this and says he is going to kill Song.  Hou tells her to stay out of this matter.  He also says that Song is trying to kill him.  The wife says she has only one request:  please don't kill Song in front of their daughter.  The warlord hugs his wife. 

Some of the Shaolin monks sneak into a guarded warehouse at night to steal some rice.  Once they have the rice they divide it into small bundles and throw the bundles to sleeping refugee street families who are very hungry.  The monks watch at how excited the people become about the rice. 

The warlord and his family arrive at the restaurant.  He tells his wife that when he slaps the top of the table that's the sign to take Nan to the restroom.  Meanwhile, he stashes one of his small pistols in his wife's handbag.  Also with the family is Cao and the soldiers. 

The Hou family runs into the Song family and everybody greets each other.  Warlord Song says that his sworn brother is late.  Sworn brother apologizes. 

Everyone sits at the table.  The hostess says that once the two sworn brothers sign their cards and then exchange them, the relationship between the two children will be a marital engagement.  Now Cao says he will bring in the wedding gift.  Big Brother is about to slap the table when Song grabs his hand.  He tells sworn brother to keep Dengfeng City for himself.  That will insure that the city finally has peace.  Song says he is getting old and, besides, the city will go to his son eventually, anyway.

Just then Song is handed a note.  He looks disturbed by the note.  Song tells his little boy that he should go to the restroom before the food comes.  The boy says he doesn't have to go, so Song insists that his mother take him.  Hou's wife doesn't know what to do, so she looks at her husband for some sign.  He tells her to go.  She and Nan get up from the table and leave. 

Now the two generals are all alone.  And here comes the assassins with axes.  Song bangs the note on the table.  The note says:  "Beware of Hou Jie's ambush!"  Song gets  up and starts condemning Hou.  Hou stands up and shoots the man in the chest with his little pistol. 

Now the ax men attack.  They even attack Mrs. Hou.  Luckily, she has a little pistol too and she shoots both axmen coming after her. 

Song has a pistol too and he points it right at Hou, but he doesn't pull the trigger.  He just tells Hou to run!  Cao just sits outside with a stupid smirk on his face.  More axmen arrive and Hou has to fight them off. 

Mrs. Hou shoots two more axmen trying to grab her daughter.  Then she grabs an axe and starts swinging it.  She tells Nan to run for it.  Other Axmen knock Mrs. Hou out cold.  Axmen chase after Nan.

Hou gets away from the axmen and goes to save his daughter.  He sees her run across the street and get hit by the horses pulling the axmen in a wagon.  He kills two of the axmen, then goes to see about Nan.  Dad picks his daughter up, puts her in a wagon and drives the wagon out of town.  Three axmen wagons chase after Hou and his daughter.  One of the wagons flips over.  Outside of town Hou is now being chased by men in about six carriages.  Some of the other carriages run into each other.  Soon there is only one carriage pursuing Hou.  They start going up into the mountains where the roads are very narrow and next to a long drop off the cliff.  Hou gets knocked off his carriage but hangs onto the side of the wagon.  Later he falls of the side.  He starts running down a short cut and dives and grabs his child just before the wagon plunges into the abyss.  But he and the child roll down the hill and are bloodied.

Hou's bloodied wife is dropped off at a temple. 

Hou takes his daughter to the Shaolin Temple and asks for help.  The monks take the little girl and put her on a table.  The monks think she has died, but she speaks.  She lasts just enough time for her mother to come to her.  Then Nan dies on the table.  The father says he will kill all the monks and burn down Shaolin Temple.  When his wife hers him, she pushes him away and down, saying that it was Hou who killed Nan.  Hou keeps saying the girl is alive, but the wife says no, she's dead.  Hou repeats his threats and starts trying to beat up everyone.  The monks are forced to overpower him.  They knock him out. 

Hou takes a knife and starts walking away from the temple.  He doesn't get far because he falls in an animal trap made for catching boars.    Hou yells for help and the owner of the property comes to his rescue.  He looks at the man at the bottom of the pit and says that the man is Hou Jie.  He asks the general if he is still killing people?  Then he says it would be good for Hou to rest here awhile.  He will come back for him later. 

Hou now is in the farmer's house.  The farmer tells him that his wife has left Shaolin so it is up to Hou to arrange for his daughter's funeral.  The abbot wants to know if Hou wants cremation or a burial? 

Hou's men are now being executed.  Cao is questioned and then beaten up by the new man that will be in charge of Hou's estate now.  That man is Cao. 

Hou himself is a wanted man with a big price on his head.  He takes the farmer's scissors and starts cutting off his hair.  He goes to the temple.  He tells the Master that he wants to stay at Shaolin Temple.  The other monks think that Hou only wants to hide out in the temple to avoid being caught and executed.  Other monks say the man is a warlord who has done terrible things.  He is sinful!  The Master says there's Buddha in everyone.  A monk retorts that there's so much hatred in this man that he will never attain zen.  Master says that the man knows he's confused and that means he is closer to enlightenment. 

Hou is assigned to work for the farmer who saved him.  The farmer continues helping Hou.  He tells him about achieving the goal of martial zen.  Hou is definitely interested in that. 

Hou starts training in the martial arts again.  He gets out to the training area before the monks do.  When they come, he leaves, but one day one of the instructors ask him to train with them.  He gladly takes up a position with the other students.  He starts being accepted by the other students.  Then the children of the village start taking a liking to him.  One of them gives Hou a bun to eat.  Hou helps a young boy in his martial arts training. 

After more training, the Master says he believes Hou has attained martial zen and has let go of the hatred inside himself.  He says to Wudao, the farmer/cook, that everyone has a purpose.  Master adds that there's even a cooking zen. 

Cao wants the warlords to support the idea of the foreign railroad.  One warlord says he thinks that Cao has already worked out a private deal with the foreigners and will not listen to anything the warlords have to say.  Three warlords start to walk out of the meeting room, but they are beaten up by two expert martial artists.  Cao tells all the warlords that it will do none of them any good to oppose him.  He says one of the beaten-up warlords will die. 

A street woman cries that her husband has not come home yet.  The woman's mother-in-law tells two Shaolin monks, one of them Hou, about their problem. The son/husband works for Cao on the railroad and he has not been home for three weeks.  The whole family depends on his earnings. 

Hou decides to go and check out the working conditions on the railroad.  He sees armed soldiers forcing railroad workers to dig a mass grave for a lot of dead workers.  The former general goes up to one of the soldiers and demands to know what they are doing?  The soldiers recognize General Hou.  A soldier tells him that all this is being done under orders from Cao.  The General orders the soldiers to leave and they hurry away.  He now tells the railway workers to leave.  One of the workers tells the General that they were hired to work on the railway, but Cao has them dig for national treasures instead of building the railway.  The relics are given to the foreigners and in return, they get guns and cannons.  Then Cao mows down the workers with a machine gun so they cannot tell what has been going on working under Cao. 

Hou puts bodies on a cart and brings them into town so everyone can see what has been going on.  People come pouring out of their tents on the street to find their loved ones. 

The Master now gives Hou a religious name:  Jingjue [Pure Enlightenment.]  Jingjue says:  "Buddha be praised." 

Now the army comes looking for Hou.  They push the regular people into and onto the grounds of Shaolin Temple.  Hou says their timing is perfect.  He will deal with Cao.  This will buy the monks some time.  At night they must go to Cao's estate and free the imprisoned workers there who are scheduled for execution.  The monks say that means that Hou will die.  Hou says it will be okay if he trades his one life for saving many lives.  The Master says it's okay. 

Cao and his henchman, an expert martial artist, ride their horses into the central temple.  The henchman starts beating up on the monks.  Everyone stops fighting when the Master comes down saying praise Buddha.  He tells Cao to have his men put down their arms, because negative deeds breed negative results.  Hou is right behind the master and he walks over and slaps Cao in the face.  He says:  "That was for my daughter.  Praise Buddha."

Cao hits Hou in the chest with a hard punch that took some of the breath out of Hou.  Hou tells Cao he will go quietly with Cao, if Cao has his soldiers put their arms down.  But the evil Cao says he is going to string up the Master and, if anyone tries to interfere, he will kill the Master immediately.  The Master says he will be alright. 

As night time arrives, a part of the Shaolin monks goes to save the "railway workers". 

Hou is taken to Cao's gilded home.  There Cao shows Hou that he holds Hou's wife in a wooden cage. 

The monks move onto the grounds of the compound.

Cao roughs up the wife a bit.  He pulls her by the hair out of the cage.  He lets Hou come over to speak to his wife.  Hou tells her he's sorry for the suffering she has endured. 

The soldier get ready to execute their worker prisoners.  A monk starts a fire and yells:  "Fire!"  The soldiers come running out to see about the fire.  The monks go into action.  They start releasing the prisoners from their very crowded cells.  They also start knocking out the soldiers by use of their heavy sticks.  One monks drives away with a wagon full of national treasures. 

The couple hug each other as Cao laughs with delight.  He shoves the couple over with his foot.  He now throws the woman into a huge vat of water.  He then starts holding her head under water, driving Hou crazy.  The only thing that stops Cao's fun is the news that the monks have taken the relics and freed the prisoners.  Cao tells his guards to kill the couple and leaves.   Before the guards can get in position to execute the couple, the Shaolin monks come up on the soldiers from behind and knock them down with their sticks.

Cao kills one of the Shaolin monks, one of the martial arts instructors, Jingneng. But this buys time for the other monks to get away. 

The cook and some of the boys at the Temple save the Master from the pain of his being strung up by knocking the soldiers down and out and then knocking the scaffolding down that held the Master hanging in place.  The cook uses some of his moves he often uses in the kitchen to overcome some of the soldiers.  The Shaolin monks return to town with the former prisoners.  The street people are excited to see their loved ones. 

The monks say the street people have to leave the Shaolin Temple immediately.  Hou takes the blame for causing this problem.  He says the Temple is facing destruction, but the Shaolin spirit will live on.  The people start moving out of the Temple courtyard.

Hou asks the cook to lead the people out of the Temple.  The monks too will be leaving, but later. 

Cao's troops are going to blow down the Temple doors and then they will pour into the compound.  The Master says they must take the people up into the hills to get away from Cao and his troops.  But many of the monks have stayed behind to fight the armed troops with their sticks and martial arts.  There's a twist here though.  Some of the monks have swords and are killing some of the soldiers.  Of course, swords are no match for rifles. 

Cao seeks out Hou for a showdown.  The fight now begins.  Hou uses a stick and Cao uses a sword.  Hou is able to knock Cao down and keep him down.  Cao announces that Hou has won, but as soon as Hou relaxes, Cao goes to the attack again.  The foreign commander now decides to totally destroy the Temple and everyone in there.  He starts bombing the Temple with his artillery. 

Jingkong is losing his match with Cao's expert martial artist.  He has been badly slashed.  The hired assassin puts his sword into Jingkong, but Jingkong pushes his way forward to force the sword all the way through him.  This brings him face to face with the assassin and he shoves what's left of his own sword into the enemy.  The assassin falls down the stairs and then an artillery shell lands close to Jingkong taking him out for good. 

The Master starts fighting the troops with his hands, until he is taken out by rifle shots. 

Cao and Hou are still fighting each other while all the buildings are being blown to pieces.  They are both knocked to the ground by the impact of an artillery shell.  Hou saves Cao from falling two stories down onto the floor of the main temple.  Cao picks up a short piece of wood.  An artillery shell knocks a big part of the roof off.  A main beam comes down.  Hou pushes Cao out of the way and the beam falls on Hou.   Cao asks him:  "Why?"  More artillery shells explode sending both the beam and the two men flying across the room.  Hou lands up in the hands of the giant Buddha statue.  Cao gets knocked down the steps. 

The monks attack the foreign artillery position and kill the foreigners. 

Cao watches as Hou lays peacefully in Buddha's hands.  He walks out of the main temple to see the utter destruction of his army and the many dead monks. 

The cook leads the street people to safety in the mountains.  The people cry when they see Shaolin in flames. Mrs. Hou is with the group.  She remembers her last meeting with her husband.  She says she told her husband that hey can never be together again, but this new husband she likes. 


Good movie.  One thing I didn't like was how even the Buddhist Master threw out all of what he was saying to kill the soldiers.  I understand they are all human too, but it cheapened Buddhism a bit when the monks so quickly and readily took to the use of violence, when they had been preaching peace, love and understanding.  They could have had some scenes where at least the Master and the monks struggled with the switchover to violence.  The film got an R rating because of the violence in the film, which pervaded the whole movie.  Two hours of martial arts is a bit much, although I liked some of the fight scenes.  I also thought the ending was a bit too smaltzy.  The hero falls into the hands of the Buddha statue after the film treated Buddhist teachings with such low regard.  Nice to see Jackie Chan in the film, but by playing the role of the cook it limited his fighting time. 

Historically, the film shows the catastrophe that war lords can bring to a country.  These war lord were like kings in their domain, but Kings with no royalty training and no real restraints on them from institutions like Parliaments, for instance.  The destruction of Shaolin Temple was just one example of the idiocy of the war lord system.  The problem is that it was a Nationalist general who destroyed the temple, not a war lord.  So the movie stretches the truth quite a bit. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 


Historical Background:

The Shaolin Monastery or Shaolin Temple is a Chn Buddhist temple at Song Shan, near Zhengzhou City, Henan Province in Dengfeng, China. The monastery is long famous for its association with Chinese martial arts and particularly with Shaolin Kung Fu, and it is the Mahayana Buddhist monastery perhaps best known to the Western world.

5th century  --  the Shaolin Temple was founded in the 5th century. 

464  -- the first Shaolin Monastery abbot was Batuo, a dhyana master, who came to China from India in 464 to spread Buddhist teachings.

477 or 495  --  the Shaolin Monastery was built on the north side of Shaoshi, the central peak of Mount Song, one of the Sacred Mountains of China, by Emperor Xiaowen of the Northern Wei Dynasty.

Kangxi, the second Qing emperor, was a supporter of the Shaolin temple in Henan;  he wrote the calligraphic inscriptions that hang over the Heavenly King Hall and the Buddha Hall to this day.

During the Tang Dynasty (617-907), Emperor Taizong granted the Shaolin Temple extra land and a water mill.   

during the 14th century  --  in the Red Turban revolt, bandits sacked the monastery for its valuables, destroying much of the temple and driving the monks away. The monastery was likely abandoned from 1351 or 1356 to at least 1359, when government troops retook Henan.

1641  --  the troops of anti-Ming rebel Li Zicheng sacked the monastery due to the monks' support of the Ming and the possible threat they posed to the rebels. This effectively destroyed the temple's fighting force. The temple fell into ruin and was home to only a few monks until the early 18th century, when the Qing government patronized and restored the temple.

early 18th century  -- The Qing government patronized and restored the Shaolin temple.  It is said that the temple's destruction was done by the Qing government because of supposed the anti-Qing activities of the temple.  There were three possible dates for this:  1647 under the Shunzhi Emperor,  1674 under the Kangxi Emperor or in 1732 under the Yongzheng Emperor.  The destruction is said to have helped spread Shaolin martial arts through China by means of the five fugitive monks.

1916-1928  --  the Warlord Era of the Chinese Republic.  Shaolin Temple is again trapped between opposing powers vying for the control of China.

1922  --  Miao Xing, the head abbot of Song Shan Shaolin and a former army regimental commander began recruiting masses of monks and laymen to become Shaolin disciples in an effort to defend local areas against bandits and warlord activity.

1925  --  as warlords became more powerful and ruthless, new abbot Heng Lin accepted even more monk warriors in preparation for the inevitable. But the temple would prove to be heavily out gunned and out numbered by the warlords. 

1928  --  the warlord Shi Yousan, a Nationalist general, sets fire to the Shaolin monastery, burning it for over 40 days, destroying a significant percent of the buildings including many manuscripts of the temple library.  The temple fire destroyed 90% of all the buildings and also burned many of Shaolins treasured manuscripts.  While planning to defect to the Japanese with his 39th Army Group, Shi was killed by his sworn brother and subordinate Gao Shu-xun.   ("SHAOLIN: TEMPLE IN THE FOREST A REAL TREE-T", by Dr. Craig D. Reid,

1966  --  the Cultural Revolution is launched in this year.  The Revolution targeted religious orders including the monastery. The five monks who were present at the monastery when the Red Guard attacked were shackled and made to wear placards declaring the crimes charged against them. The monks were jailed after publicly being flogged and paraded through the street as people threw rubbish at them. The government purged Buddhist materials from within the monastery walls, leaving it barren for years.

2010  --  the Shaolin Monastery and its famed Pagoda Forest are inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the "Historic Monuments of Dengfeng".


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