TIFF ‘08 Preview: The Real Shaolin

The term “Shaolin” has acquired an almost mythical air about it, thanks to innumerable kung fu movies that center around China’s Shaolin Temple, the birthplace of kung fu. But despite such a legacy, the Temple has suffered greatly, especially in the 20th century.

In the 1920s, most of the monastery was destroyed when a Chinese warlord set fire to it for over 40 days. And later, China’s Cultural Revolution targeted the Temple as part of a campaign against religion in general; the handful of monks still living there were arrested and flogged, and all of the Temple’s Buddhist writings were removed.

However, the Temple has seen a resurgence in popularity recently — due in large part to those aforementioned kung fu movies — and major attempts have been made to restore and keep up the grounds. And now, new students have made their way to the Temple, hoping to learn the secrets of kung fu like those before them.

The Real Shaolin — directed by first-timer Alexander Sebastien Lee, who actually studied kung fu at the Temple himself — follows four students as they journey to the Temple. Two are from China, one is from America, and one is from France, but all are united by their desire to master the martial arts.

As someone who has always been fascinated by the martial arts, and by the legends surrounding the Shaolin Temple, this movie immediately rises to the top of my queue, if only to see some of the truth behind the legend.

Check out The Real Shaolins official TIFF entry here.