Martial Arts of Shaolin

This third film in the Shaolin trilogy is much more in spirit with the first one in terms of plot, intensity and themes. Though many of the same actors are used again, they are all in different roles from the two previous films. There is a fair amount of action with two set pieces in particular that were very impressive.

The story as best as I could understand (unreadable sub-titles) and with the help of the review in the HK Database by SS is once again about revenge. In the opening scene a man is unlawfully executed by a court magistrate and then the film jumps years ahead to Jet Li as a young Shaolin monk pounding the hell out of a tree in a practice session. Apparently the fellow executed was his father and though Jet is usually a genial fellow, an anger resides inside and he still seeks revenge for his father. The opportunity soon comes.

In the first terrific set piece, a large troupe of performers are giving an exhibition in the courtyard of the magistrate who Jet Li is looking for. Jet is able to join the performance as a lion dancer. This performance on its own merits is a wonderful spectacle full of great acrobatics, lion dancing and beautifully agile women. Just as Jet finally gets the opening to attack, it turns out that he is not the only one with murder on his mind as a number of the participants have conspired to kill the magistrate.  The assassination plot fails though and Jet, another fellow and a girl find themselves on the run together.

After many escapes (with Jet spending a lot of time disguised as a female sheep herder!), the final confrontation takes place on an ornate river barge with the three of them taking on a huge number of enemies. Though parts of this were regretfully speeded up too much, it is a terrific fight.

Though in many ways the Shaolin trilogy may seem quaint and a little outmoded to many Jet Li fans, they are certainly very worthwhile. Jet is probably on a physical basis at the top of his martial art skills and the trilogy utilizes only a small amount of wire work. These being Mainland productions, the films were able to shoot among some fabulous settings – both historical and geographical. One of the other great assets of these films are the supporting players. Many of the same actors are used in all three films and they all have wonderful martial art skills. As do the numerous actors in other smaller roles. In some of the bigger scenes, it is simply a huge canvass of talent on the screen – all fighting and performing great acrobatics.

The one supporting actor that I really enjoyed in all three films is Yu Hai. He plays Jet’s sifu in the first and third film and his dad in the second. He brings great presence and charm to his role and displays a very interesting fighting style. In information gathered from the Internet, Yu Hai began training in wushu in 1954 and became the coach of the Shandong wushu team in 1966. Apparently, at one time he was also bodyguard to Zhou En-Lai (Mao’s Foreign Minister for many years).

My rating for this film: 7.0

Yu Hai