Wherein we roll up our sleeves, get angry, and give The Academy a swift punch in the nuts
Best Actor: Andy Lau forShaolin
U.S. Release date: September 9
China's Shaolin has everything the Academy could ask for: a grand, epic historical drama with a wonderful script, gorgeous cinematography and costumes, and top-notch acting. What's more, it tells a moving tale of redemption that asks the question: can even the most ruthless people change and find love for their fellow human beings? This film should have numerous nominations, but the fact that it didn't get one for star Andy Lau's brilliant lead performance is shameful.
Shaolin is set during the warlord era of the Republic of China, in an unspecified time between 1916 and 1928, when rival warlords fought each other for land and power. As the film opens, warlord Huo Jie (Lau) is on the verge of seizing control of the city of Denfeng. In first of the film's many impressive battle scenes, Huo Jie and his forces chase a Denfeng general Huo Long into a shaolin temple. There, Hou Jie defies the monks, shoots the wounded and helpless Hou Jong, defaces a temple sign, and leaves. But when Huo Jie is double-crossed by his second-in-command, a strange twist of fate brings him to the shaolin temple — this time as a victim. The monks' Buddhist teachings dictate that they welcome Hou Jie into their fold, but only if Hou Jie can truly forgo his violent nature. Hou Jie, faced with no other option, is willing to try — and, despite all the horrible things that he has done, we want to see him succeed.
Hou Jie's transition from brutal to sympathetic is well written, but Lau's careful performance makes it work. In the opening scene, Hou Jie is cunning and vicious, but Lau is so magnetic that you want to see more. Hou Jie is cut from the same cloth as Alex DeLarge from A Clockwork Orange or Shakespeare's Richard III; such a character is very tricky, because if the audience hates him then they have no reason to root for him, and the story simply won't work. The actor must be able to pull off this difficult balancing act or the film will be unwatchable. Lau manages to endear Hou Jie to us even in his early scenes, and maintains this high level of exquisite acting for the rest of the film, showing off his remarkable range as his character hits a huge spectrum of emotions. Shaolin is an incredible film, and Lau's amazing performance is an essential part of its success.