The Shaolin Temple (少林寺)

The Shaolin Temple

Rating: 3/4 (Classic kung fu fun!)

The Shaolin Temple (少林寺) released in 1982, was the first martial arts movie to be shot in China. It was the movie debut for Jet Li, who back then was the wushu champion of China. The movie begins with an introduction of the real Shaolin Temple located in the Henan province of China. At this Buddhist monastery, monks have been practicing a form of martial arts (now popularly known as Shaolin Kung Fu) rigorously for centuries. The murals at this temple are filled with kung fu stances and legends of the kung fu monks of Shaolin. The rest of the movie is loosely based on one of these tales in which 13 Shaolin monks help save an emperor.

Chueh Yuan (Jet Li) has witnessed the death of his father, a famous fighter at the hands of Wang Jen-Tse, a cruel general. Wang betrays the emperor of the Tang Dynasty and takes control of the East Capital. Gravely injured Chueh Yuan escapes to the Shaolin Temple, where he is nursed back to health by the kind Shaolin master and his 12 disciples. In time, the master and disciples become good friends of Chueh Yuan, who works odd jobs at the temple. One day he runs away to confront Wang, wanting to extract revenge for his father’s death. But, he is defeated badly and is saved by Li Shi Min, who is opposing Wang’s atrocities. Chueh Yuan also saves a beautiful girl Ding Laam, who turns out to be his master’s daughter.

After returning to the temple, Chueh Yuan embraces monkhood, starts learning kung fu and in time masters it. When Li Shi Min escapes imprisonment from Wang, Chueh Yuan helps him get away to build an army. Angered by this, Wang turns his ire on the Shaolin Temple, where he arrives with his army to destroy and burn it to the ground. This sets up a culminating showdown between the 13 monks, their master and Li Shi Min’s army against the evil Wang and his army.

Though pretty dated, The Shaolin Temple is an enjoyable experience. Jet Li in his movie debut looks young and his action is fluid. All the monks in the movie are real kung fu practitioners and it shows in the excellent action scenes. There are no special effects, wires or stunt doubles in this movie. It is refreshing to see such high quality martial arts performances flowing from real performers! Most of the scenes are shot at the actual Shaolin Temple, the gorgeous Pagoda Forest (the cemetery for the Shaolin masters) and some breathtaking rural Chinese landscapes, which is a big plus. Even the room where the monks practice is the real Shaolin practice room, whose floor is broken due to the centuries of foot pounding it has endured. The abbot’s minister and the master, both provide the typical martial-arts-movie-comic-relief. The story is cliched all right, but this is one heck of a good martial arts movie!

Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince

Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince

[ Trailer ]

Rating: 3/4 (Harry Potter fans will not be disappointed)

Love and danger lurk large in Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince. The movie is based on the 6th book in the Harry Potter series. It is the antepenultimate movie, now that the studio has decided to split the last book into 2 movies! This movie is the darkest in the series yet and rightly so since the evil forces of Voldemort are gathering strength for a final showdown. Draco Malfoy is enrolled by He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, who also recruits Severus Snape to protect Draco and help him in this mission. Meanwhile, Dumbledore cajoles his old friend Horace Slughorn to come back and teach his potions class at Hogwarts. This move is not without a plan, as Dumbledore reveals to Harry that Voldemort was Slughorn’s favorite student, known back then as Tom Riddle.

But, even Voldemort cannot stop the harmones, which are raging like fire this year at Hogwarts. Every one is tripping, falling and sinking deep in love, Harry, Ginny, Hermione, Ron, all of them! Sparks fly as smitten students fight to gain the hearts of their lovers. Charms aside, Harry cleverly manipulates Slughorn and learns how Tom (Voldemort) had split his soul and hidden it in several places. Dumbledore and Harry travel to one of these places to grab it, where after much effort they are duped. On their return, the dark forces finally converge on Hogwarts, as Snape and Draco move in for their final assault.

Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince

Though extremely long at ~2.5 hours, I walked out quite satisfied with this movie. The first half is full of teen romance. There is an overload of infatuations and kissing (or snogging as it is termed in British English in the movie). Thankfully, most of the romance is peppered with sarcasm and pun. The relationships that the principal characters finally fall into feel very comfortable and that is a compliment to Rowling. While the characters in the initial Harry Potter movies were too young, I finally felt that I could connect with them here in their teen years. The movie is also loaded with some great acting. While Alan Rickman (as Snape) is always a delight to watch, Jim Broadbent (as Slughorn) is pure fun. His facial antics and slippery words make every one of his scenes enthralling. The darker half of the movie is engaging and intense, though similarities to Lord Of The Rings cannot be missed. The graphics are lovingly done, I especially liked all the non-action scenes composed in and around Hogwarts. Maybe the romantic fluff should have been tightly edited, but other than that this is a great package of a Harry Potter movie. I cannot wait for the final installments now! 🙂

The Body

The Body

Rating: 3/4 (Cheesy, but interesting)

The Da Vinci Code is not the first commercial movie to put the Vatican or the origin of Christianity on the pulpit. The Body starring Antonio Banderas and Olivia Williams, released in 2001, also does the same by unearthing the body of Jesus Christ.

The Body is based on the novel of the same name by Richard Sapir. Dr. Sharon (Olivia Williams) is an Israeli archaeologist who discovers a rich man’s tomb while digging inside the city of Jerusalem. The tomb is empty, but a skeleton is found in an adjacent hidden room. The rusty holes in the bones, the markings in the skull of this skeleton and its dating lead her to suspect that this could be the body of Christ. On learning about this discovery, the Vatican sends Father Matt Gutierrez (Antonio Banderas) to Jerusalem to investigate into these findings and find a way to prove that it is not the Christ. For if the body were to be of Christ, that would disprove the resurrection of Christ, on which Christianity is based.

Though Olivia is an agnostic Jew, her fellow countrymen are not. They attack her and Gutierrez for opening up a tomb. Also, the Palestinians get interested in the bones. They believe that by getting their hands on the bones they can gain the upper hand in the Israel-Palestine conflict. Caught in the middle of this, Gutierrez is also forced to question his own faith in God.

The movie presents an interesting premise, but in a slow, controlled manner, unlike the I-cannot-understand-what-is-happening lightning pace of The Da Vinci Code. Antonio Banderas looks young and charming here, but his European accent sounds pretty fake. Olivia Williams is a picture of grace, but is given some ridiculous lines to spout. A lot of the scenes, including the climax are pretty cheesy. But, I loved the background music (of which there is a lot) which sounds exotic and mellow, filled with riffs of the music from the Middle East region. Also, most of the movie is actually shot in Jerusalem, Israel and Middle East regions, which is rare in Hollywood movies. Those city scenes filled with Middle East people, shops, hoardings, signs, furniture, cafes and the general hubbub are fascinating to watch. The Body is a cheesy, but interesting movie.

The Exorcism Of Emily Rose

The Exorcism Of Emily Rose

Rating: 4/4 (Fascinating and scary)

Emily Rose is found dead after an exorcism is performed on her by Father Moore (Tom Wilkinson). Is Father Moore guilty of murder? That is the intriguing question placed before the courtroom jury in the movie The Exorcism Of Emily Rose. The movie is based on the true story of Anneliese Michel, a German woman who was supposedly possessed by demons and was subject to an exorcism.

Emily Rose is a happy rural teenager who gets a scholarship to study at university. While at university, she is possessed by demons, who make her psychotic and send her into seizures. She returns home to her father’s farm house, where Father Moore, the local parish priest attempts an exorcism on her. The exorcism fails and Emily’s health further declines in the following days, leading eventually to her death. That is at least the story that Erin Bruner (Laura Linney), Father Moore’s defense attorney tries to present. Representing the people is Ethan Thomas who tries to prove that the plight of Emily was a medical condition of psychotic epileptic disorder and that Father Moore killed her by interfering with her medical diagnosis.

From the very first opening scenes, this movie totally had my attention. The horror of Emily Rose is slowly depicted in flashbacks while her case is argued in court. The scary scenes fit snugly into the courtroom drama leading to a totally chilling experience. I found the plot to be very intriguing, as both the sides of religion and medicine are not completely sure that they are right. Laura Linney and Tom Wilkinson have acted well, resulting in their characters being very compelling. The cinematography is bare, sparse and chilling. This is a fascinating scary movie.

Parineeta (परिणीता)

Parineeta

Rating: 3/4 (Good watch)

Parineeta (परिणीता) is a period romance set in 1960, based on the novel of the same name written by Sharat Chandra Chatterji. The novel deals with class issues, which the screenplay clearly sidesteps and instead creates a romantic drama. Shekhar (Saif Ali Khan) and Lalita (Vidya Balan) have been neighbours and close friends since childhood in Calcutta. For years, Lalita has had access to Shekhar’s heart and he in turn has given her access to his pocket money. Though Shekhar’s dad Naveen is a business tycoon, Shekhar fancies his piano, guitar and Lalita more. Their humdrum friendship is dashed on the entry of Girish (Sanjay Dutt), a family friend of Lalita. He saves her ancestral home from the brink and wins her heart. And in this despair, Shekhar decides to forget Lalita and marry someone else. Is this the end of their love?

If the sleep-inducing songs can be skipped, Parineeta is quite good. Debutante Vidya Balan plays Lalita effortlessly with grace and sensuality. Saif Ali Khan is dashing as Shekhar. Sanjay Dutt, though genial, looks quite old for his role as Girish. The script pulls the right strings maintaining a sense of intrigue all through the movie. Special mention goes to the period look of the movie, which is very nicely done. Though I felt that it looks pre-Independence or older, rather than 1960! Parineeta reeks of similarities to Devdas. Not surprising since both those books were written by Sharat Chandra Chatterji, both are based in Calcutta/Bengal around the same period. Both feature weak and indecisive male protagonists and confident female protagonists. And both Vidhu Vinod Chopra (here in Parineeta) and Sanjay Leela Bhansali (in Devdas) favour the over-the-top look for their movies. Thankfully, Parineeta is far more edible than the excesses of Devdas.