It would be a very poor “best of” list of martial arts movies that did not include at least one with “Shaolin” in the title.
Some say The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978) is one of the greatest (named as one of the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. Others will pick Shaolin (2011), which features a cameo from martial arts film legend Jackie Chan.
It’s true, hardly anyone will include the crazy Shaolin Soccer (2001) in their list, but most fans will agree that The Shaolin Temple (1980) is a true classic of the genre – not least because it features the debut of the incredible Jet Li.
The film tells the story – based on a version of the truth – of how the famous Shaolin monks rescued the first emperor of the Tang dynasty. It is also notable for being the first martial arts movie made in mainland China since communist rule began. And, for a western audience in particular, its story was significant for being built around the cultural and historical importance of the Shaolin Temple itself.
So when Shaolin allowed rare access to the temple for a film crew and a group of fitness instructors earlier this year, it was another remarkable milestone in the 1500-year history of this sacred place.
The occasion was the 25th anniversary and the 100th release of the iconic BODYPUMP workout on January 14, 2017, organized by the GT FIT club in Zhengzhou for Les Mills. Of the thousands of events held around the world to mark BODYPUMP’s birthday, this was surely the most unique.
Situated near the sacred Mount Song in Henan Province, the Shaolin Temple and its nearby Pagoda Forest are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The resident monks have been practicing their version of Kung Fu martial arts for more than a millennium-and-a-half, which is an expression of physical grace and power as well as their Chan (also known as Zen) Buddhist faith.
Naturally, the monks were intrigued by the fitness techniques being demonstrated by the instructors from Zhengzhou, just as the instructors were keen to see the martial arts skills of their hosts. It was agreed that both could help each other in pursuit of their physical goals, and the day became a true exercise in sharing ideas, mutual respect and a wonderful meeting of East and West, ancient and modern, and barbells and Kung Fu.
Let’s face it, it would make a great movie.