Monday, August 25, 2008

Movie Review: Shaolin Wooden Men

The latest Jackie Chan movie in our festival schedule is Shaolin Wooden Men, another Lo Wei directorial effort. In this one, Jackie plays a mute Shaolin student - the reason he doesn't talk is only vaguely referenced in flashback scenes and not fully explained until late in the movie. As is usually the case in Jackie's early movies, he isn't a particularly good student, until he meets up with more unconventional trainers. In this case, rather than a drunk wanderer, he gets his training from several teachers: a prisoner of the Shaolin temple, a female Buddhist nun, an ancient blind monk. He gets enough training to defeat the ultimate test, the titular Wooden Men, a gauntlet of robotic opponents. He then moves out of the temple, only to get involved in battling his former teacher, the prisoner, and a stranger, who may be the man from his dreams, his father's killer.

It seems like a lot of plot typed out like that, but really, there isn't too much exposition, since things move pretty much in a straight line. We get a pretty good series of training/fight scenes, with standouts being (of course) the battle against the Wooden Men, and a multi-person staff fight (although Jackie just watches that one from the sidelines). This leads to the inevitable showdown fight, which is a worthy ending, with multiple participants taking on Jackie, with hands and weapons. We are also now starting to see a better use of acrobatics in the fight scenes, so the overall effect is better than in the preceding movies.

It's kind of odd that they decided to make Jackie's character a mute in this film; he doesn't even get to silently do his usual moaning-from-self-inflicted-pain shtick. Instead, his character is a fairly humble, stoic type, a hard worker that for whatever reason needed a new set of teachers to reach his potential. But his wheelhouse is clearly being the young clown who emerges into a master fighter, and his early character here isn't nearly a clown. So we end up with a good film, but not a film that Jackie is able to elevate above that level.

I'm going to go ahead and make this one the first three-star movie on our festival's listing, since it mostly manages to avoid the cheesiness of the earlier films we've gone over. It's not a high three stars, but it is enjoyable. Next up: Jackie stars in yet another overly-serious role, in Lo Wei's To Kill With Intrigue.

No comments: