少林卅六房 (1978)
The 36th Chamber of Shaolin

Reviewed by: Chungking_Cash
Date: 11/03/2008

The quintessential weakling cum accomplished master story arc made "The 36th Chamber of Shaolin" a Shaw Brothers classic straight out of the chute.

Director Liu Chia Liang had up to this point only collaborated with his adopted brother Gordon Liu on a handful of films but following the success of "The 36th Chamber of Shaolin" their respective careers would be attached at the hip for a number of years to come.

Derived from Woshi Shanren's novel San Te Monk's Three Visits to the Xichan Monastery the real San Te died at the hands of Ching invaders in Xichan.

Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: Gaijin84
Date: 11/26/2006
Summary: The movie that has defined the genre...

What more can be said about this film that has not already been stated? It's an absolute classic from director Liu Chia-Liang with Gordon Liu in his signature role that will live forever as one of the most well-known and loved in Hong Kong movie history. Liu Yu-de's (Gordon Liu) persecution by the Chings and subsequent training at the Shaolin temple lead to the formation of a new man in Monk San Ta. Although his first inclination to learn kung fu for the sake of revenge is eventually quelled, he does manage to influence the politics of China with his creation of a 36th Chamber. This chamber achieves what he desperately wanted to do by teaching Shaolin kung fu to the masses, who are not beholden to the tenants of a Buddhist monk. By teaching his students to fight back against the oppressive regime, San Ta indirectly exacts the revenge he promised his father before entering the ranks of Shaolin.
The 36th Chamber of Shaolin has everything you could ask for in a kung fu movie. A great plot with the best training sequences ever put to celluloid, as well as exceptionally choreographed fights by Liu Chia-Liang. Throw in the explanation of the origin of one of the most famous Shaolin weapons, the 3-sectioned staff, and you have a film that has influenced pop culture and movie making to this day. Not to be missed!


Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: cal42
Date: 05/20/2006
Summary: Classic

There are several “Watershed” films in Hong Kong action cinema – Chinese Boxer made unarmed combat popular (something the Bruce Lee films built upon and enhanced), Drunken Master introduced drunkenness as a way of fighting and firmly established comedy as a bona-fide source of entertainment for the genre, and so on.

However, between these events, we have 36th Chamber of Shaolin. Like Drunken Master, the effects of this film can still be felt today. 36th Chamber of Shaolin really began the tradition of the main character training (and suffering great hardship) to achieve his ends. The template displayed here can be seen in dozens of genre classics all over the world – and also the loathsome Karate Kid movie.

Basically, the film is split into three very distinct and separate sections. In the first section we are shown the tyranny of the Manchu overlords and Lau Kar Fai’s impotence to do anything about the oppression. The second and altogether lengthier section concerns San Te’s flight to the Shaolin Temple and his training therein. The third and rather predictable section is San Te exacting his bloody revenge on the oppressors (including Lo Leih as the main bad guy).

The second section is by far the reason why this film is still such a classic. We see San Te’s transformation from a simple man into a well-honed fighting machine in great detail, and feel his agony every step of the way to the elusive 35th Chamber. The training section alone would have made a great film - it comes as a bit of an anti-climax when San Te finally defeats the general! But along the way, San Te does establish his (and, by association, Lau Kar-Fai’s) signature weapon – the three sectioned staff. In some territories this weapon was adopted by cinema-goers much the same as Bruce Lee’s nunchaku were back in the early 70’s.

It has to be said that this film does suffer the age-old problem of the Shaw Brothers’ “Sudden Ending Syndrome”, but apart from that and the fact that you just want the Shaolin section to go on and on forever, this is a fantastic example of Hong Kong action cinema from the 70’s.

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: hungrytiger
Date: 01/13/2005

This film is a classic shaw production directed by lau kar leung and staring his adopted brother gordon liu. This is the role that made gordon liu go from secondary player to a international star. Good character development and sub plots keep the film moving and drive it forward. Action direction is second to none and gordon liu shines in this one.
Good training sequences and Mr. Lau's trademark message of the moral code make this a must see

Reviewed by: Sydneyguy
Date: 09/27/2004
Summary: I really wanted to like this movie but......

I am a big fan of Liu Chai Hui but this movie i didn't find anything special about it. I guess the hype from other reviewers did raise my expectations somewhat and i am a big martial arts movie watcher.

The training sequences are fine but it takes one third of the movie for it to start to become interesting. It's maybe because i have seen many kung fu movies with training sequences that it no longer has the WOW factor for me anymore.

Lo Lieh plays actually a very minor role as the main villian. SPOILER but Liu Chia Hui defeats his enemies seemingly very easily.

Not a great movie but watchable enough, just don't read into the hype. The best Liu Chia Hui movie is "invincle poleman"


Reviewed by: balstino
Date: 08/15/2003
Summary: Good, Mary Poppins meets Shaolin!

Good fights, good to great training sequences, and some nice little philosophy all make this is a tidy little classic. It is a serious film but it has a child like atmosphere to it and a very glossy look. I wouldn't say it was the best Shaw by a long shot, but if you are into Shaolin films, this is a must see.

Reviewed by: magic-8
Date: 08/11/2003
Summary: Rediscover the Classic Shaolin Tale

Lau Kar-Leung's (Liu Chia Liang) "The 36th Chamber of Shaolin" was one of the Shaw Brother's most successful exports and would give Gordon Liu international recognition playing the role of Shaolin monk, San Te. Following films like "King Boxer" (aka "The Five Fingers of Death") "The 36th Chamber of Shaolin" would find enthusiastic audiences worldwide, including extended runs along the infamous strip of grindhouses of 42nd Street in New York City's Time's Square.

Where Chang Cheh's "Shaolin Temple" depicted the fall of the famous monastery, director/choreographer, Lau Kar-Leung takes the path he knows best as a real-life disciple of Lam Sai Wing, a student of Wong Fei Hung and the lineage to Shaolin master and Chinese folk hero, Hung He Kuan, a person recruited by San Te, in this part fact, part fiction tale, to practice Shaolin martial arts in order to fight the Manchu during the Ching Dynasty.

"The 36th Chamber of Shaolin" goes into the grueling physical aspects of Shaolin martial arts training. The abusive and seemingly mundane routines of the Shaolin monks are actually superior coaching techniques that would develop into deadly skills in both empty-handed and weaponry combat, including the Hung fist style. These fights provide enormously entertaining demonstrations of skill and agility. Audiences the world over got caught up in the detailed chambers training, where specific martial arts were developed. The film's style of portraying martial arts demonstrations would later be referenced in Cheung Yam Yim's 1982 version of "Shaolin Temple."

"The 36th Chamber of Shaolin" continues to be one of the most beloved Hong Kong cinema films that Shaw Brothers has ever produced. This movie gets a renewed life in the form of a Celestial DVD release by IVL. You can experience this film in the original Chinese language and get rid of the corny and inferior English dubbed version. Relive the Shaolin monks' training experiences and rediscover the reasons why this film is so fondly enjoyed and remembered.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 06/08/2003

The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin is regarded by many kung fu fans as the finest kung fu film ever made, and few would disagree that it's the best Shaolin film at least. It made star Gordon Liu a firm fan favourite in the West, and was a box office hit in Hong Kong too.

Gordon Liu starts the film as a young Han student who witnesses the oppression of his people at the hands of the Manchus, and develops revolutionary feelings. Seeing that the people are powerless against the Manchu armies, he goes to Shaolin Temple and begs to learn kung fu. His drive and determination leads him to master the various training chambers of Shaolin in record time, teaching him physical skills and wisdom. His wish to free the Han from oppression remains unbroken, however, despite the temple's policy of not getting involved in the outside world's affairs.

The training sequences are the core of the film, as Gordon faces the sometimes tortuous challenges presented in each chamber and learns the necessary skills to overcome them. It's a nice little lesson for the audience in the foundations of kung fu, though necessarily abbreviated for time (the film can't realistically last the full five years of Gordon's training). These scenes are imaginatively conceived and well executed, though it's clear that the superhuman techniques Gordon masters in some of the chambers are rather dependant on wires and other tricks, making them somewhat less impressive than the training sequences in Jackie Chan's Drunken Master, where you can see Jackie is really doing these things.

It wouldn't be a kung fu film if all this training didn't lead to some fights, and the last 30 or 40 minutes of the film is basically one fight after another as Gordon shows off the skills he's developed by kicking a bunch of ass. The fights use various weapons and hand to hand forms and are well filmed by the master Lau Kar Leung. However innovative and influential Lau Kar Leung was in the 60's and 70's, his style was starting to look a little dated by 1978 though, as Golden Harvest was developing more fluid and acrobatic styles thanks to the work of the Seven Little Fortunes and others. The film won the "Best Martial Arts" award at the 24th Asian Film Festival, but I'm not really convinced the fights are as enjoyable as some of those that Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung staged that year. Gordon Liu is a fantastic martial artist though, and always a joy to watch.

36th Chamber Of Shaolin is a great example of the Shaw Brothers style of kung fu film, but I have to say that I prefer Golden Harvest's kung fu films or Shaw Brothers' wuxia films. 36th Chamber is a highly enjoyable film, but I certainly wouldn't call it my favourite kung fu film or one of my favourite Shaw Brothers films. It's one I'm sure I'll watch plenty of times in future though.

Celestial Picture's DVD release is definitely a new and better way to see the film, coming in beautifully restored widescreen with Cantonese or Mandarin sound options (I went with Mandarin but am not so sure this was "correct") and nice English subtitles. Although the disc has a "fake anamorphic" image, it looks a lot sharper than some of the other titles that Celestial misguidedly released that way - maybe they did some extra processing of the image to get rid of halos etc. The fact it's not true anamorphic is only really noticable when people's faces in the middle distance turn slightly mushy - most of the time it looks really really good. The disc also comes with a 15 minute interview/documentary, where Gordon Liu talks about the film and director.

Verdict: If you're a kung fu fan, the film and this disc are essential purchases. If you're not, this film is probably unlikely to make you one.

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: CaptainAmerica
Date: 06/13/2002
Summary: Or, "How to be a MASTER KILLER!"

I can't add much of anything others have have told about this classic, but I finally got to see it recently and I honestly expected more action than I saw! I know, that sounds dumb, but I didn't get the point until I got into 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN that this film looks into the discipline and spirituality of the martial arts (Shaolin martial arts, to be specific), with its now-standard story of revenge against those damn Manchus being secondary. It's a path of martial enlightenment, from being a student to becoming a master.

And it isn't an easy path, as San Te (Gordon Liu) makes his way through all 35 Chambers to find not only revenge against those who murdered his friends and family, but because of his knowledge and desire to bring this enclosed tradition to the people, to create his 36th Chamber. But what am I saying? You know about it, you heard what I (and others) had to say, so go see this movie NOW!

Reviewed by: Inner Strength
Date: 04/15/2002
Summary: Good

One of the most enjoyable movies of the 70's, though maybe a little over-rated for what it is, it is a good example of it's kind.

Rating: [3.5/5]

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: mrblue
Date: 02/12/2002

After Manchus destroy his village, a young man (Liu) goes to train at the Shaolin temple, where he becomes a star student. After being kicked out of the temple for suggesting that the Shaolin teach their kung fu to ordinary people, he begins to assemble his own team to take revenge on the Manchus.

The plot is probably one of (if not the) most used in kung fu films, but few movies pull it off as brilliantly as 36th Chamber of Shaolin. Most of the movie centers around Liu's training in some very original and inventive training sequences (such as using a hall of mirrors in a darkened room or making Liu carry buckets of water with knives strapped to his arms) dealing with the various "chambers" (schools) of the Shaolin, culminating with some great fights near the end. The cinematography is quite nice and avoids the staticness most "old-school" kung fu films feature. Many films have emulated or outright stolen many of the images from 36th Chamber of Shaolin. It is quite literally the blueprint for almost all of the traditional kung fu films that followed it, and should not be missed by any martial arts fan.

Reviewed by: 5elementninja
Date: 12/31/2001
Summary: Classic, that simple

This is one of my favorite kung fu movies of all time. I remember seeing this years ago and had to own it on video. Gordon Liu is a politics student at a university and his entire school ends up being slaughtered by the Manchu Empire and he vows vengence. He sneaks inside a Shaolin Temple and convinces the abbot to take him in to learn kung fu. What ensues is one the greatest kung fu training sequences ever. Once he becomes a master of Shaolin kung fu, he can act upon his revenge.


Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: Magical Rice
Date: 07/07/2001
Summary: Cool Flic...

I liked this movie, mainly because of it's great training scenes.

If you take this movie and another film called the MYSTERY OF CHESSBOXING and combine them, you'd have a damned near perfect "Kid's village is attacked, family gets killed, he's trained, gets kicked out of school then continues his quest to find the killer" movie.

I agree with the other comment about the opening fight scene being, uh, "formulated" at best.

This movie also runs about 2 hours, so make sure you have dried squid & popcorn.

I give it a 6.5 out of 10.

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: tygrdx
Date: 08/18/2000

The best of the old. I can't say the entire film is great, the opening fight scene is kinda hokey, but the rest of the movie is truly classical. As many others have said, the training sequences are brilliant, the fight scenes are fantastic, and the story is great. So great, even the English Dubbing is fantastic, maybe even better.

Reviewed by: battlemonkey
Date: 12/21/1999

A movie with lots and lots of training, but in a good way. A young man named Liu Yu Te (Chia Hui) escapes to Shaolin temple after his family is massacred by Manchu soldiers. For the next hour of the film (it is nearly two hours long), Yu Te trains as a Shaolin monk. After he has done this for years, he goes out to recruit more soon-to-be famous monks and kill the people who murdered his family. An amazing movie. The training scenes are incredibly inventive and fun, and the fights are superb. This is probably the most well-known and successful martial a rts film outside of Asia, and excluding the obligatory Bruce Lee films. Rightfully so, as the film is great.

Reviewed by: hokazak
Date: 12/09/1999

The Shaw Bros. classic most often described as "the one thatstarted it all..."!

Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/08/1999

Gordon Liu plays a student who's friends and family are killed by the Ching dynasty during the time when the Chings regarded the learned as rebels. He is found half dead by villagers and come to rest in a Shaolin monastry where he learns Kung-fu and eventually makes the decision to leave and avenge his friends. An absolute classic. Director Liu Chia Liang sets the standard for all revenge movies at a time when Chang Cheh seemed to have tired the theme. The training that Liu has to undertake is brilliantly sadistic and painstaking. Liu Chia Hui is never better than when playing the irrepressable hero and his physical ability and skill is second to none. Liu Chia liang is a law unto himself and always leaves you with something despite being a studio director with very little time or budget to work with ever. Liu Chia Hui's character creates a new chamber (the 36th) in order to teach his skills to non-monks, this propagates the spread of knowledge for the benefit of the collective very clearly. Outstanding.

[Reviewed by Andrew Best]