Shaolin (2011, China / Hong Kong)

Shaolin2011 Andy Lau

What to Expect

Shaolin begins as a typical good-guy versus evil-guy martial arts tale, but it quickly evolves into a far more compelling parable. After all, conflict between good and evil is rarely as simple as one party beating the other into submission. Instead, this is a story about dissonant world views, goodness in the face of destruction, and how victory can mean completely different things to different people.

If you would like to see a clash of strong wills, and to follow a person’s journey to forge such a will, then Shaolin is a film for you.

Discussion: A Modern Parable

(This brief discussion is happily spoiler-free!)

Shaolin is not just a story about martial arts and Buddhism. The characters find meaning in the beliefs they defend, and in doing so, they represent timeless philosophies that resonate even today. The monks of Shaolin defy a culture that breeds greed, self-centredness, and a survivalist view of the world. Their restraint is mistaken for weakness. Their pacifism is mistaken for fear. Their efforts seem futile at times, especially against the stubbornness of the antagonists, but they remain defiant nonetheless.


The real world is no different. The survivalist worldview may no longer be as obvious as tyrants rampaging with guns, but it persists in our glorification of a cut-throat approach in business, as well as in the aggression and fearmongering that is prevalent in both social media and traditional media. Although many of us do not live in wartime, we cannot forget that is easy to be swept up by the same ideals that drive the antagonists of Shaolin.

Stories are powerful tools because they show us a life other than our own. I believe that we need more films, and more stories in general, that remind us to pause and reassess our direction. The monks of Shaolin remind us that it is possible to strike out on a path that others may not yet understand.

When you think you have conquered the world and left others behind, remember to pause and reassess your direction, because not all victories lead to a life of happiness.

Note: For those with access to Australia’s SBS On Demand, Shaolin remains available for free until 1st Aug 2017.


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