Despite its focus on a potentially fascinating subject, “The Real Shaolin” is a curiously underwhelming docu about four martial arts students — two Chinese, two Westerners — who travel to China’s legendary Shaolin Temple, the reputed birthplace of kung-fu and Zen Buddhism, to seek training. Helmer Alexander Sebastian Lee offers an insider view that may attract auds with extreme interest in the discipline of kung-fu and the genre of chopsocky. Overall, however, his talky and technically drab pic simply isn’t compelling enough to indicate much promise of theatrical potential or crossover appeal.
Inspired by the on-screen adventures of Bruce Lee and Jet Li — especially “The Shaolin Temple,” the 1982 standard-setting classic that introed Li —four disparate students are eager to become real-life martial artists. But while 9-year-old orphan Qi Yuan improbably masters “Iron Body Qigong” techniques under a demanding mentor, doc’s other three subjects — rural-Chinese Zhu Hao Shan, French native Eric Guillou and Connecticut-born Orion Lee — face disappointment and disillusionment. Pic wryly notes that influx of would-be martial artists (and curious chopsocky fans) greatly pleases the Shaolin tourism industry. But “Real Shaolin” could discourage other students from making the trip.