The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

Country: Hong Kong
AKA: 36th Chamber, Disciples of Master Killer, The Master Killer, Shaolin Master Killer, The Thirty-sixth Chamber
Director: Chia-Liang Liu
Writer: Kuang Ni
Starring: Chia Hui Liu, Lieh Lo, Chia Yung Liu, Norman Chu
Music: Yung-Yu Chen
Producers: Mona Fong, Chia-Hsi Huang, Run Run Shaw
Fight Instructor: Chia-Liang Liu

There’s a scene towards the beginning of Enter The Dragon, where all the disparate martial artists are traveling by junk to Hans island. A brawny New Zealand fighter pushes around some of the Asian workers on the boat, and then he tries to intimidate Bruce Lee. Needless to say, it doesn’t work. The New Zealander presses Bruce to reveal his fighting style. Bruce says, ‘it is the art of fighting without fighting’. The New Zealander isn’t familiar with that style, and demands to be shown some of it. Now I want you to think of me as the New Zealander — maybe without the brawny fighting skills. That is, think of me as big, dumb and stupid and with little knowledge of various fighting techniques. That way, when I say something stupid in the body of this review — and I will — there will be no need to send out a team Hung-gar masters to beat seven shades of shit out me, okay!

Beneath the surface of the film there is a great deal of political history which from my limited knowledge it is best that I simply ignore, or else I’d just be regurgitating something that I read somewhere else anyway. So I am going to look at this film as a simple revenge flick. I know that limits the review, but I am quite fond of a good revenge flick, and if you choose to watch this film, and are sufficiently informed to get MORE from the film than presented here, then that’s a bonus for you, isn’t it.

But to the review. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin is a slick, colourful revenge flick and a bloody good one at that. It starts off in Canton and the villagers are under the oppressive rule of the Manchurians. When the Manchurians kill the family, schoolfriends and teacher of young San Te, he is forced to flee. Busted up and being pursued by an evil warlord, he makes his way to Shaolin monastery. The monks take San Te in and tend to his wounds.

After a year at the Monastery, San Te enquires about learning Kung Fu. The masters are very happy to teach him, and he is told that there are thirty-five chambers (levels); which one would he like to start at? He is pretty arrogant and believes he is a fairly good martial artist, so San Te suggests that he starts at the thirty-fifth. Now as you would have no doubt guessed, he isn’t quite the master that he thinks he is and is soon put in his place. After the embarrassment and failure of his first test, he chooses to start at the first chamber.

Historians and kung fu aficionados may be enjoying the pic so far — and I was too — but this is where it really kicks into gear with what is essentially an overblown training montage as San Te makes his way through each of the chambers. This is truly amazing cinema and my few simple words here will not do justice to the spectacle on display; all I can do is suggest that if this sounds like your cup of tea, and you haven’t seen it, then search high and low for a copy of this beauty.

Now dear reader, at this point I am guessing that you are saying ‘hang on, San Te only went through thirty-five chambers – this film is called the thirty-six chambers – he must have one chamber to go!’ And in a way you are right, but I am not going to spoil the film by revealing the outcome – but needless to say, this film is a revenge flick, so rest assured that San Te is going to seek retribution against those who killed his family, schoolfriends and teacher.

As you can no doubt tell by the shallowness of this review, that I do not watch enough martial arts films (well not good ones anyway – I don’t think Steven Seagal really counts?) But on the strength of this film, I think it’s something that I am going to have to rectify. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin works on many levels, and that makes it perfect entertainment.

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

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