General Hou’s Chicken: Kung Fu Export Shaolin Tows the Party Line


This crude, overlong chunk of kung-fu kitsch lays its scene in a 1920s Republican China, torn by internecine fighting and weighed down by drably expensive production design. Warlord General Hou (Andy Lau) expands his power with amoral avarice, but overreaching leads to his tragic comeuppance, and the once-proud General finds himself a fugitive, sheltered by the humble monks of the very Shaolin Temple that he’d once profaned. The residents, including an earthy comic-relief cook (Jackie Chan), rehabilitate Hou’s soul with homilies and martial Zen, so by the time his usurper ex-protégé, Cao Man (Nicholas Tse), brings war to the temple, the atoned-for Hou has been drilled to confront him with wire-fighting and wisdom that sounds suspiciously Party Line (“You possess far more than you need!”). Some vigorous fight scenes hardly compensate for the basely pious drama, spurred along by a fetish for child endangerment and slo-mo martyrdom. Amid so much shaven-pated earnestness, Tse’s feverish warlord is a welcome note of baroque, flouncy-haired melodramatic wickedness, slaughtering his countrymen while selling off priceless relics and railroad concessions to foreign devils. “China belongs to the Chinese!” Hou elsewhere objects. The Chinese will not have much difficulty keeping their film industry to themselves with flagship products like Shaolin.