Shaolin Wheel of Life (2000)

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Released 2-Oct-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Martial Arts Main Menu Audio & Animation
Featurette-Enter The Shaolin
Web Links
Featurette-Shaolin History
Active Subtitle Track-Wheel Of Life
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 2000
Running Time 76:00 (Case: 156)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Micha Bergese

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring None Given
Case ?
RPI $36.95 Music Barrington Pheloung

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio Unknown Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Wheel Of Life is probably going to have two different audiences. The first those that are not involved in martial arts and simply see this as a stage show. The second are those that are involved in martial arts and are looking for a demonstration of the Shaolin Martial art. The first group will probably get the most out of this show, as it is really aimed at them. The martial artists are going to feel like they have bought one of those sampler boxes of chocolates - lots of yummy treats, but only one of each, that soon runs out and leaves you wanting more.

    I watched the main feature first and while I really enjoyed the show, each section is very short. I was left wondering why this was so, and then I watched the documentary on the making of this show and found, to my surprise, that the entire show was created, organised, and choreographed by Westerners, not the monks or even Chinese people. The producers have gone in as Westerners with little or no martial arts experience and not a great understanding of Eastern culture.

    This show portrays the Shaolin monks as a Westerner sees them, and also shows their martial arts as a 'circus act', a demonstration of physical prowess, not as a martial art with centuries of technique and practice behind it. Even the music was composed by a Westerner. While there are some good sections, it is still recognisably Western music.

    In my humble opinion, this is a shame. There is a missed opportunity here to bring the true culture, music and martial arts of a group of monks that have in many ways been isolated in time for many hundred of years to the Western world. This would have been a far more interesting experience, if for no other reason than the fact that it would have been so totally different to our culture

    The rest of this synopsis will be aimed at those that will see this as a show, with a little explanation of what it is that you will see. The martial art displayed in this show is the Shaolin Kung-Fu. Chinese martial arts differ from Japanese and Korean arts in that they are much more flowing, normally called a 'soft style', not because they don't hit hard, but because they use flowing smooth movements. Also, their weapons tend to be lighter than those used in other Eastern martial arts. Kung-Fu was developed by observing how animals fight. Each subsection of this art is based on a different animal; the monkey, the tiger, the crane, and others. These techniques were then refined through hundreds of years of conflict. Unlike Western martial arts, such as the sword work of the European knights or the rapiers of the later period, Eastern martial arts have continued to be practised until the present day and thus are a living tradition.

    The show is based on a legend from the history of the Shaolin monks. The monastery was asked to help protect the emperor, which they agreed to do, and they won the ensuing battle. They then wished to return to their temple, but the emperor wanted them to stay. When they refused, he nearly wiped them out, with only a few surviving. There is a lot to the history of the monks and their temple which I will not repeat here as there is an excellent web site available that goes into far more detail than I have room for.

    This story is used to tie together a series of demonstrations by the monks of their skills, both in unarmed combat and weapons. We start the show with a typical morning in the temple with the monks mediating, accompanied by a 5.1 channel sounds of the morning. We then move on to some forms practice. What we see here is an important part of martial arts training - forms are a series of set moves that are memorised and repeated many times. It may look like the person is performing techniques into empty space, but in practice the person is visualising an opponent. Each move is in response to an attack or counter from this opponent. This means that a person can practice techniques that would be too dangerous to perform on a live person as well as being able to practice alone. This is one of the secrets of martial arts - each possible attack is analysed and a defence invented. This defence and usually a counter attack is then practised many, many times. Over the years that someone trains, they will repeat these moves thousands of times. This means that the defence becomes instinctive - there is no thought required to counter an attack and thus it is blindingly fast and usually effective.

    From here, we move to one of the best demonstrations of monkey style I have ever seen. Unfortunately, it is very short. You can see that the practitioner has attempted to take on the mental as well as physical attributes of the monkey, which is the goal of the animal styles.

    We are then treated to a short recital on the Chinese flute, an instrument with a distinctive sound. It is make of bamboo and is played like a regular flute, but there is an extra hole between the embouchure (the part you blow into) and the first of the note holes. This extra hole is covered with a piece of onion skin which vibrates and gives the instrument its sound.

    This is followed by a further demonstration of various forms. Watch carefully at the sides of the stage - there are two young boys standing on one leg with their other legs over their heads throughout this section in an impressive demonstration of stamina.

    We then move on to a series of weapon demonstrations. First is the sword staff. This is a staff with a large blade on the end. Next is twin swords. The material at the bottom of the sword is used to confuse the opponent. Following this is one of my favourites, the three section staff. This is comprised of three sections of wood about two and a half feet long joined by short sections of chain. The demonstration is excellent. I know from experience that one wrong move with this weapon can render you unconscious very quickly! Next up is single sword followed by a sword and chain demonstration. The chain is about eight foot long and again this demonstration is electrifying but short.

    The show continues with some breaking demonstrations. I am not a great fan of these but some may like them. One monk comes out and after preparing himself allows a series of monks to break large pieces of wood over various parts of his body. There is more of this later with concrete blocks and monks breaking lumps of steel over their heads.

    Overall, this is an enjoyable hour and a bit, but it is clear that it has been choreographed by a non-martial artist. I also think we lose a little by not being there physically. The impact of this show would include the aura of the monks and this cannot be captured on video. While the demonstrations were short, I was very impressed with the skills of the monks. Their control, strength and abilities could only be gained by a lifetime of training.

    On a separate note, it is quite annoying trying to start this disc up. We first must sit through a copyright warning, then two studio start-ups and a warning not to do the dangerous Kung-Fu stuff at home, all with User Override Prohibits set.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality


    My guess is that this has been recorded on video. There are no film artefacts, and it has the distinctive look of noisy video during low-lit sections.

    This show is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.781 and is 16x9 enhanced.

    The video is quite soft, particularly in long shots, and lacking in any real detail. Shadow detail is good considering the wide dynamic range of stage lighting, from direct spotlights to dark background areas. Low-lit sections show video noise as the gain of the camera increases to compensate. An example is the background at 13:14.

    The colours are variable. In parts, they are very vibrant and fully saturated, with the colourful costumes of some of the characters being well rendered. However, where stage lighting causes flaring, the colours wash out, in some cases completely to white. There was a small amount of chroma noise but no signs of colour bleed.

    This transfer is free of MPEG artefacts.

    There are no subtitles.

    This is a dual layered disc. In the absence of noting a layer change, I suspect that one layer contains the main feature and the second the extra features.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    There is only one audio track present on this DVD, a Dolby Digital 5.0 recording (flagged as a 5.1 soundtrack). It is a very good effort that recreates the experience of being at the show quite well.  

    There is very little dialogue. There is some voiceover that gives a little of the story, but no speaking parts on stage. The bumps and bangs on stage appeared to be in sync with the sound track.

     The music is good and in parts really adds to the atmosphere of the show. Unfortunately, it sometimes loses its Chinese theme and becomes very Western.

    The surrounds were well-used to bring the sound out and around you. The ambience of the theatre has been captured and you believe that you are there in person. This includes echoes from the action on stage as well as the sounds of the audience and their enthusiasm for this show.

    The subwoofer supported the music and action well with redirected bass from the other speakers. There is nothing spectacular here, but it would be missed if it was not present.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    We are treated to quite a good selection of extras.


    The animated menus include live footage from the show on half the screen and further clips during menu selections. This is accompanied by a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack.

Multi-Angle Feature

    At several points during the main feature, a large wheel appears in the upper right corner of the screen. While this is on-screen, you can hit Enter on your remote and be taken to a different view of the action. This is not true multi-angle that can be accessed via the Angle button but a series of separate chapters. Each time you press Enter you are returned to the start of that section of the action, but with a different camera angle. I'm not sure why they elected to do this in this fashion rather than use DVD's in-built multi-angle feature.


    This is a documentary on the making of this show, and it is excellent. We see the reaction of the Western producers to the lifestyle of the monks, the ambience of their temple and the monks as people. We also see some of the best martial arts footage as the monks demonstrate what they think represents their art, rather than the Westerners' choices. Seeing inside the Shaolin temple is also a real treat. We then see the reaction of the monks to the Western world as they tour with the show. A fascinating juxtaposition of cultures and well worth watching.

    The video quality is a little variable as some of the footage is taken using a small handheld video camera. The audio is Dolby Digital 2.0.

Positions Gallery

    This is a series of still shots showing both the animal positions as well as other Kung-Fu positions. These positions exist for a number of reasons, the main one being that the centre line of the body is the most vulnerable; the face, the chest, the stomach and diaphragm and the groin. Each position protects this centre line in a certain manner. It is not possible to completely protect this area, but in each position the strengths and weaknesses are known and there is a reasonable idea of which attacks will come while in each position. Reducing the number of possible attacks allows defence to be better planned, and then practised using the forms.

Text History

    This is a series of pages giving a short history of the Shaolin monks. Each page also has a link to a still photograph that relates to the story being told. Selecting this shows a close-up initially, which then pans out to show the full image.

Web Link

    If you are playing this disc on a PC then this will take you straight to the Wheel Of Life web site. If not, it simply shows you the URL.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    There does not appear to be a Region 1 version of this disc.


    The documentary was probably the highlight of this disc for me. The show is excellent, but I found the shortness of each demonstration a little frustrating, but that is probably as I was watching as someone that has trained in martial arts.

    The video quality is disappointing.

    The audio was good.

    There is an excellent selection of extras.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Terry McCracken (read my bio)
Wednesday, September 19, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDSkyworth 1050p progressive scan, using RGB output
DisplaySony 1252Q CRT Projector, 254cm custom built 1.0 gain screen. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre.
AmplificationSony STR-DB1070
SpeakersB&W DM305 (mains); CC3 (centre); S100 (surrounds); custom Adire Audio Tempest with Redgum plate amp (subwoofer)

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