SHANGHAI Shaolin Temple, home to China’s most famous branch of kung fu martial arts and scores of films about fighting monks, has tightened rules controlling the use of its name in commercial ventures, and the use of the location in film shoots.
According the temple’s newly registered company, Henan Shaolin Temple Industrial Development Ltd., film and television crews looking to shoot on the location need to be supervised by officials from the local antiquities bureau. Images of the temple used for commercial purposes will also have to be approved by representatives from the ranks of resident monks, and the words “Shaolin” and “Shaolin Temple” are now registered trademarks.
Shaolin Temple in China’s central Henan Province has been the inspiration for many of China’s best-known kung fu films, including Jet Li’s breakout movie “Shaolin Temple” (1982), which was also shot on location there. More recently, Shephen Chow’s comedy hit “Shaolin Soccer” featuring soccer-playing Shaolin monks was banned in China for its flippant use of Buddhism. But Shaolin films stretch back to at least 1939 with “How Shaolin Temple Was Burnt to Ashes.”
Temple reforms have been causing a stir for the last year or so. The abbot, Shi Yongxin, who is also CEO of the Henan Shaolin Temple Co., was the subject of a recent Discovery documentary, which was part of the broadcaster’s First Time Filmmakers initiative. His corporate approach to managing the ancient religious site and his distinctive combination of traditional saffron robes, mobile phone and SUV transportation have drawn as much praise as criticism from local media.
Whether the new regulations, which were approved by the provincial assembly of Henan Province, will prove to be an impediment to filmmakers remains to be seen.
Huang Kun, Henan Shaolin Temple Co.’s legal consultant, insists that the temple will continue to welcome productions.
“Making a movie here is not complicated,” he says. “It’s just a question of speaking to the abbot. If he agrees, it’s no problem. … We have even agreed to footage shot by crews who didn’t ask for permission. We just want to make sure content is positive.”
He goes on: “There is no specific date when we will start enforcing the laws. It’s an ongoing process of protecting our rights.”
While copyright theft and piracy remain rampant in China, Shaolin Temple’s newfound concern for its rights is typical of the country’s increasingly litigious cultural industries.