'Shaolin' brings kung-fu back to the temple

First film to use famous name officially in 28 years

SHANGHAI -- “Shaolin” is the first movie in 28 years sanctioned by the famous kung-fu temple of the same name, Emperor Motion Pictures CEO Albert Lee said Monday on the opening day of the market at the 13th Shanghai International Film Festival.
 
In 1982, “The Shaolin Temple” boosted Jet Li into the spotlight, but the new film stars the already-famous Andy Lau as a besieged early 20th Century warlord who finds salvation in martial arts and Buddhism under the watch of the temple chief, played by Jackie Chan.
 
At a time when China’s newly booming movie business still makes few big sales outside Asia, Lee said the $25 million “Shaolin,” which Hong Kong-based EMP co-produced with the state-run China Film Group and publicly-listed Huayi Brothers, has export potential.
 
“The names Jackie and Shaolin are a very feasible combination,” said Lee of the film whose other co-producers are Beijing Silver Moon Productions and the Shaolin Temple itself, in Henan province.
 
Founded in the 5th century, the temple is on the grounds of what is perhaps the best-known Buddhist monastery to the Western world, long associated with the Shaolin kung fu discipline.
 
Chan, despite his small role in the film written originally with him in mind for the lead, said he was pleased with the outcome after four months of shooting under director Benny Chan, with whom he worked together on the 2006 comedy “Rob-B-Hood.”
 
“In the temple, every action is Shaolin kung-fu, so, even though I’m the chief, the role is very appealing,” said Chan at a news conference packed with Chinese media and a crush of fans shouting for co-star Nicholas Tse, also present.
 
“Shaolin” came about when EMP parent Emperor Group hcairman Albert Yeung chatted with the abbot of the Shaolin Temple in Beijing during the Olympics, Lee said.
 
“Upon hearing that we had a film in development about wu tang, another discipline, the abbot said, ‘You know, if you want to do a movie about China and kung-fu, you should really work with Shaolin,'” Lee recalled.
 
Shot in a life-size replica of the temple built in Zhejiang province, “Shaolin” could re-introduce the background to one of the best-known Chinese worlds, Lee said, right at a time when the industry is under pressure from Beijing to make exportable movies to help China’s soft power.
 
“The temple name is a property, a brand,” said Lee, citing just one of the reasons they couldn’t shoot the film there.  Another?  “Because we couldn’t burn it down at the end,” Lee said.
 
The last film connected -- however loosely -- to the Shaolin discipline was Stephen Chow’s 2001 martial arts comedy “Shaolin Soccer,” which got wide global distribution.
 
The new “Shaolin” also stars actress Fan Bingbing, who recently starred in the Cannes-nominated “Chongqing Blues.”
 
Leading man Lau was not present as he’s now shooting the Chinese remake of “What Women Want” in Beijing, but Chan held the crowd’s attention before dashing back to the capital on a private jet to prepare for the premiere of “The Karate Kid” on Wednesday, an official from one of the actor’s companies said.
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