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36th Chamber of Shaolin, The (1978)‏


My favourite was #14, the "I'm not touching you! I'm not touching you!" room.
My favourite was #14, the "I'm not touching you! I'm not touching you!" room.

Genre: Period Kung Fu Action! (Hong Kong)

Starring: Chia Hui Liu (Kill Bill), Lieh Lo

Directed By: Chia-Liang Liu (The Legend of Drunken Master)

Overview: Under the oppressive rule of the Manchu, one man flees to a Shaolin temple in hopes of learning Kung Fu to defend his homeland. We follow the trials that San Te faces as he graduates from the Shaolin temples' training chambers.

During an oppressive Manchu rule, San Te is a student and son of a fishmonger. When his teacher's rebellion plan is discovered, the Machu go on a killing spree to eradicate the uprising. San Te barely survives, fleeing to the nearby Shaolin temple. There he hopes to learn from the Shaolin monks the martial art of Kung Fu so that he can return to his town and help rid his land of the tyrannical rule.

That's about as straightforward a plot as you can devise, a simple three act character arc of Oppression / Transformation / Vengeance, but the magic of The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (also knows as Shaolin Master Killer) lies not in the why, or even much in the character development of our heroically dedicated San Te. One could even go as far as to say that the first and last act, enjoyable as they are, are just there to as continuity elements that serve to crown the real reason for watching the lion's share of this engrossing film. What stands out most about The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, as its title implies, are those 'Chambers of Shaolin', a gruelling gauntlet of training where each 'chamber' focuses on one skill, one strength. One room is entirely dedicated to the development of the wrist, another to the training of the eye. From physical strength to weapon skills, from the chamber of the baton to the comic 'head chamber', every one is a thrill to experience. These scenes are devised so well that The 36th Chamber of Shaolin would even be exhilarating if there was a chopstick vault, or even a quadricep femoris pavilion. It's just that fun to watch. And, I have to concur with to quote the 1001 Movies book that made me watch this in the first place, "Chia-Liang Liu is nothing less than the best fight choreographer ever to work in the Hong Kong film industry." The combat is absolutely absorbing. It's certainly not all fighting - there's plenty of comedy and drama to mix things up.
not to mention those "oh yeah? PROVE you're so hot!" moments!
Not to mention those "oh yeah? PROVE you're so hot!" moments!

Performance: 7 Cinematography: 8 Script: 7 Plot: 7 Mood: 10

Overall Rating: 78% (A Great Way To Kill Some Time)

Sometimes an occasionally strange film crosses the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die List, and were it up to me, the list would most likely not have included The 36th Chamber of Shaolin - another 1978 film that wouldn't be there is Up In Smoke, but don't get me started... I already ranted plenty on THAT one. The difference with The 36th Chamber of Shaolin is that it's a nice break from the usual. Our famous list sometimes goes out of its was to make a point of including films on the cusp like this one (#556. Pink Flamingos anyone?).

Perhaps The 36th Chamber of Shaolin isn't a MUST SEE, but in the context of "it's the most famous" of the Shaw Brothers 279 Productions, and entertaining as all Hell besides, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin is a light and fun intermission film that one can enjoy between all the other culture-defining heavies that give us 1001 Clubbers our self-imposed homework.

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As a massive Kung Fu film fan (hence the name) I have to say that this deserves it's place. It's a classic of Eastern cinema and it's influences are far spread. Not to everyones taste though. Sites looking good Squish.

You know, since posting this I've learned a lot more of the importance this film has had on Kung Fu cinema, so I shall defer to the masses in this one. I do agree that it belongs on the formidable list.

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