Shaolin Temple (1982)

Directed by
Some of the finest martial arts seen on film
Reviewed by Simon on 2024-03-18

A vicious warlord declares himself king and begins a tyrannical reign. After seeing his father killed by the warlord, a wounded young man seeks refuge in the Shaolin Temple. As he recovers he begins to learn the temple's famous martial arts - but his burning desire for vengeance puts him at odds with the pacifist teachings he is taught alongside them.

It's obvious that 36th Chamber Of Shaolin made an impression on the mainland, but when director Zhang Xin-Yan decided to make a homage he had the advantage of being able to film parts at the actual Shaolin Temple in Songshan.

China's film industry was eviscerated by the revolutions of the early 20th century, with many of its luminaries ending up in Hong Kong or Taiwan and kickstarting the film industries there. The industry eventually re-emerged on the mainland but it was shaped by the demands of the Communist Party, tending towards serious, political films. It was probably a very long time since the mainland had produced a martial arts film.

Luckily Zhang Xin-Yan was able to draw his cast members from the Beijing wushu academy - including a handsome young wushu champion called Jet Li.

Shaolin Temple (1982) 100

This was clearly a labour of love for them, eager to discover what they could do and then show the world. The film's fight choreography is quite unique, with the players knowing each other and their own abilities so well they were able to push them to the limits, and the film is a remarkable demonstration of physical virtuosity.

Jet Li in particular has never looked better. I think he became a lot more cautious after breaking his leg filming Once Upon A Time In China, often relying on Xiong Xin-Xin to double him for acrobatic moves. Here he was fearless, and rarely has anybody moved with such grace and power.

The film benefits enormously from the stunning landscapes and ancient architecture available to them - the sort of things Shaw Brothers would have had to construct on their back lot and sound stages. As much as I love the artificiality of those sets there is no denying that the real thing looks way more impressive (though there are some great sets here too, to be fair).

All said and done, SHAOLIN TEMPLE (1982) is a a spectacular film with some of the finest martial arts combat ever seen on screen. The 4K restoration on the Japanese bluray really brings out the film's beauty too, vibrant and detailed and colourful.