October 31, 2007

DVD Review: Shaolin Legend

I am not a martial artist, I have never been and never will be. However, if there is one thing that I have come to enjoy, that is martial arts films. The choreography and skill required to do what they do is phenomenal. What is also interesting about martial arts is the history, somehing else I know little about. While I do not foresee a time when I will ever take serious time to investigate, I have respect for the spiritual roots and non-violent nature of those who practice Shaolin kung-fu. Martial arts is much more than a way to fight, the journey to learn in the traditional manner will also test your connection with your spirit, allowing you to become closer to nature. Shaolin Legend brings twenty Shaolin monks to the stage where they demonstate their skills in the art of kung-fu and their control of the mind to overcome pain, pushing their physical skills to their limits.

Shaolin Legend is a stage show recorded February 8, 2006 at the Olympia Hall in Paris, France. The monks took to the stage and put on a spectacular show of physical ability and mental endurance. The 90 minute show features younger students going through a variety of forms and styles (including drunken boxing) while the older monks put on performances with a variety of weapons, from blades to whips to spears. There were mock fights showing their skills, precision, and speed. It was all rather exhilarating.

In addition to those forms the audience is also treated to feats of physical endurance. Monks would break metal ars over their heads, pound nails with their bare hands, balance on the tip of rotating spear, and have brick broken with a hammer while sandwiched between sword blades and a bed of nails. These are no magic tricks or illusions. Everything that these monks do is real.

This is not a disk for anybody, but those who are interested in martial arts, is a student of the art, or has interest in live stage performances will want to check this out. There is no dialogue, no subtitles, no language barrier. It is a silent performance accompanied by traditional and modern music. The focus that the performers exhibit is phenomenal. You cannot help but respect what they are able to do.

That said, this is not a perfect DVD or performance. First the forgivable, there are a couple of moments where mistakes are made. I have no problem with this, they are human after all, and are in the midst of learning what they will never be able to complete in a lifetime. Second the questionable, I have some problems with the music; I wonder if the soundtrack on the DVD is the same that was used live. Some of the more modern music just sounded weird when combined with the stage show, it worked much better and seemed more natural when the traditional music was playing. At one point they use music from The Fifth Element; specifically, the opera performance of the blue alien (I forget her name), it is a cool piece but seemed out of place. Finally, there is the issue of the editing. Between many of the segments everything goes black and watching it just looks awkward. I have to believe that is how it was done live, but I think that they could have edited around this to help the flow of the DVD.

The DVD I received was a pre-release version that did not come with the extras. The final DVD will include a history of the Shaolin monks, a photo gallery, and a highlight reel of the show.

Overall, this is a very cool release. Seeing the monks perform is a great experience, one that I would like to experience live at some point. I would also like to mention that this DVD reminds me of one from a few years back called Shaolin: Wheel of Life, which I believe to be a better overall presentation, plus it features a reenactment of their history. Either way, you cannot go wrong with an excellent presentation of martial arts.


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