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Martial arts epic is more violent than others in the genre.

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The movie's main theme has to do with shunning violence in favor of compassion, and it's presented clearly and powerfully. That said, the film uses an enormous amount of violence to make that point -- even the compassion is demonstrated during the heat of battle.

Positive role models

The main character learns to give up his hateful, violent ways and begins to show compassion, even for his most brutal enemies. Another character begins the film thinking very little of himself, but he learns that he can be useful and eventually becomes a leader.


Tons of violence, ranging from martial arts battles to slicing, stabbing, and shooting with copious amounts of blood. The overall tone is serious and tragic. Children are involved in some of the violent acts; one little girl dies, and some boys are shot at. There's fire, explosions, destruction, and lots of dead bodies. Horses are shown getting injured.

Not applicable

The words "bastard," "damn," and "hell" pop up in the English subtitles.

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Drinking, drugs, & smoking
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Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this subtitled martial arts epic from Hong Kong and China is a particularly violent example of the genre. Not only are there (beautifully choreographed) martial arts fights, but there's also frequent shooting, stabbing, slicing, explosions -- and lots of blood. There's a serious, tragic tone to the violence, and children and animals are involved in some of it -- a little girl dies after a battle, soldiers fire warning shots at boys, and horses are injured. There are no other real issues except for the occasional iffy word in the subtitles, like "damn," "hell," and "bastard." Teen fans of martial arts movies will want to see this, especially given the presence of stars Andy Lau, Nicholas Tse, and Jackie Chan, but the level of violence shouldn't be underestimated.

Parents say

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What's the story?

In the early days of the Chinese Republic, a warlord, General Hou (Andy Lau), and his sworn brother, Cao Man (Nicholas Tse), ravage the land, conquering, stealing, and slaughtering as they go. Lusting for more power, Cao arranges to betray his old friend through a staged assassination -- in the violence, Hou's daughter is killed. Hou finds himself lost, wanted by his former men, and gravely injured. A cook (Jackie Chan) at the nearby Shaolin temple rescues him and nurses him back to health, and Hou soon finds that the monks' belief in Martial Zen helps him let go of his hatred. Unfortunately, Cao still has some evil plans up his sleeve.

Is it any good?


The movie's well executed, and it has many dazzling moments, but that's not enough to vault it to the top of the heap. Big, historical martial arts epics have been making money in China, so there are a lot of them; SHAOLIN is one of several to make the leap to the United States. Director Benny Chan, who's best known for some of Jackie Chan's more recent films, simply doesn't have the grace or style of someone like Yuen Woo Ping (True Legend) or John Woo (Red Cliff).

The plot has very few surprises, and Benny Chan's direction doesn't seem to get inside the material. However, Jackie Chan brings some warm energy to his supporting role -- a rarity for this big star -- and turns in a delightfully self-effacing performance. The character's "coming out" sequence is truly wonderful. In the other roles, while Tse doesn't bring much depth to his sneering villain, star Lau -- with his handsomely angular face -- gives a fine performance.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the movie's violence. How does it compare to other martial arts movies? What about to horror movies? How are certain scenes different from others?

  • Why would the Shaolin monks practice fighting and martial arts when they're dedicated to compassion? Can violence lead to peace?

  • The cook learns to believe in himself by using skills he already had in new ways. What skills do you have that could be used in more active or more positive ways? 

Movie details

Theatrical release date:September 9, 2011
DVD/Streaming release date:October 25, 2011
Cast:Andy Lau, Jackie Chan, Nicholas Tse
Director:Benny Chan
Studios:Variance Films, Well Go USA
Topics:Sports and martial arts
Run time:131 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:violence

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What parents and kids say

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Teen, 14 years old Written byarman kalantari January 28, 2012

i love the movie action violence i like

i like this movie so much that i almost whatch it every day
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence
Too much swearing
Teen, 14 years old Written byMaster Reviewer June 12, 2016

Great historically accurate film

This is an amazing movie. It's historically accurate with great martial arts sequences. The kung-fu by Jackie Chan, Andy Lau and Nicholas Tse is to die for. It is fairly violent and can be shocking at times but most kids 12 and up will be able to handle it. P.S.- I watched it when I was 9.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence


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