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少林搭棚大師 (1980)
Return to the 36th Chamber

Reviewed by: ewaffle
Date: 10/14/2010
Summary: Classic Shaw Brothers Kung Fu

"Return to the 36th Chamber" begins as a workplace drama that highlights the class differences between the owners and the workers in a fabric dying factory. There is a manager backed up by a squad of tough Manchu thugs that the owner has imported to keep labor peace by terrorizing the employees. He creates an incident with two lots of fabric. One is dyed a bright, deep yellow--the Manchu sample and the other is a sickly, pale color produced by his current employees. The foreman and his goofball sidekick had been concerned with poor results but this confrontation is about breaking the spirit of the workforce. The boss announces that the Manchus will be taking over supervision of the dye works and that all the workers will have to take a small pay cut in order to pay their salaries. So it is the workers against the bosses and their goons.

The initial cut in pay was only the beginning. It is illegal to strike, difficult to sue in court and impossible to simply quit and go to a dye shop in the next town because they are all controlled by one company. Things look very bad for the dye workers and the families who depend on them, facing a grim future.

The answer, of course, is kung fu. If only there was a trained martial artist who could lead them and beat up all the bad guys. Enter Chou Chun Chi, played to perfection by Gordon Liu. He doesn't know kung fu--actually all he knows are various confidence schemes to trick the gullible into handing over money. As it happens he is currently impersonating a monk from Shaolin temple, a mendicant begging for alms to support his monastery. He has a shaved head, some beads and a disreputable looking robe but no knowledge or skill in any kind of fighting. But as a born trickster he is able to make the Manchurians think they have met their match. This doesn’t last long--the boss sees through his game very quickly and he and the dye workers wind up much worse off.

Ashamed and hurt, Chou Chun Chi wanders the land until he comes upon a group of Shaolin monks. He sneaks into a class of novice monks who are learning the basics--or thinks he does although the abbot his assistants aren’t fooled for a moment. Instead of being thrown out he is given an apparently impossible task: get enough water from a deep well to take a bath using only a rock--no rope, no bucket, no pulleys, just a rock. He approaches this assignment with pigheaded determination and is able to accomplish it using a combination of exceptional (and unsuspected) strength, balance and flexibility.

Thinking he has it made he approaches the abbot, ready to start his kung fu training. The abbot has other plans though--the monastery needs constant repairs and a major overhaul is in the works. He tells Chou Chun Chi to build the scaffolding for the project: all the scaffolding; without help; take your time, just work until you are finished. The only saving grace is that he can watch each class in each exercise and co-opts their training moves into the work of scaffold building.

He is so employed for three years--using lengths of leather thongs to bind long bamboo poles onto posts and into a grid, all around the walls of the temple. By the time he is done he has mastered a new form of kung fu, the scaffold style. The scenes between him and the abbot are marvels of choreography, comic timing, camera tricks perfect execution. Gordon Liu has charisma to burn and is completely convincing as the reformed con man who learns an ancient art by watching and doing. By the time he is ready to leave Shaolin the audience is as convinced of his transformation as is the abbot.

Returning to his village and the dye works he finds the workers dispirited and fearful. The best of them have been fired and survive hand to mouth as small time peddlers selling cheap goods to those who are still employed while the workers in the factory are working longer hours for less pay. Our hero would have little trouble with the boss and his Manchu hoodlums but they are reinforced by the owner of all the dye shops in the region and even tougher goons.

The first band of assailants are easy to deal with--they are pole fighters and Chou Chun Chi has learned how to deal with bamboo poles. With an inexhaustible supply of short ropes around his waist he soon has them and their weapons literally tied up. When the big boss and his gang arrive things get even better--they chase him to a construction site and, naturally enough, fight him on a scaffold.

This is a terrific movie. Hsaio Ho is spot on as fun loving but loyal sidekick to Wa Lun’s strong and anguished workers’ leader. Kara Hui, showing the incredible depth that Shaw Brothers had then, was in a supporting, non-fighting role. Kwan Yun-Moon was the epitome of a surly punk as the chief Manchu hooligan.

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: mrblue
Date: 02/14/2010

As with 36th Chamber of Shaolin, much of the emphasis here is on training sequences versus actual fighting. That's not a bad thing, since the training still features lots of acrobatic and inventive martial arts work, and the end payoff of Gordon Liu learning "scaffolding" kung fu gives the final fights a unique flavor that you're not going to see in many other old-school pictures.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: Chungking_Cash
Date: 03/15/2008

Director and action choreographer Liu Chia Liang, screen writer Ni Kuang, producer Run Run Shaw, and star Gordon Liu all revisit the 36th Chamber for no better reason than to poke fun at their own recipe for success.

Gordon Liu returns but does not reprise his role as San Te from "The 36th Chamber of Shaolin" (1978) rather stars as a conman impersonating the legendary Shaolin monk.

Initially hired by textile workers to scare off Manchurian thugs the charlatan is eventually exposed and the town's people punished with Manchurian fists for their deceit.

Humiliated and the catalyst for innocent suffering the young phony is encouraged by two sympathizers to seek out true Shaolin martial arts at a near-by temple where the training sequences often out distance those seen in the film's otherwise superior predecessor.

Heart-felt touches of melodrama, Shaolin piousness, and a winning finale aside "Return to the 36th Chamber" is largely played for laughs and depending on your tolerance of Cantonese humor results may vary.

Atypical of parodies and pseudo sequels the world over the Shaw Brothers keep the production values competitive with Liu Chia Liang following suit.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: cal42
Date: 07/09/2007

The runaway success of THE 36th CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN pretty much guaranteed a sequel would be made. The trouble was, how could it work? San Te (Lau Kar-Fai) had already gone through the gruelling training required to become a master of the martial arts and exacted his promised revenge on the cruel Manchurian General. Last we saw of him, San Te had returned the Shaolin Temple to become a monk and had set up the titular 36th Chamber. What more could you do? Give him amnesia and make him go through the whole process again?

Thankfully, they came up with a much better idea – Lau Kar-Fai plays Chou Jen Chieh, a conman PRETENDING to be San Te. This comes in useful when the workers at a small dye factory have a pay dispute with their Manchurian employers. Chou is brought in, playing San Te, to negotiate and subtly intimidate the bosses into paying the workers their full wages using a mock Kung Fu demonstration. Inevitably, the Manchu get wise to the con and pummel the workers into submission. Humiliated, Chou departs for the Shaolin Temple to undergo training for real. Here he meets the ‘real’ San Te (now played by Lee King-Chue), who continually thwarts Chou’s attempts at learning Kung Fu, and instead makes him erect a massive net of scaffolding around the entire Temple for future renovation work. Once complete, Chou is dismayed when, instead of finally being accepted as a pupil by San Te, he is told to tear down the scaffolding and promptly thrown out of the Temple for good. However, when he returns to his down-at-heel friends, he quickly discovers he might have picked up a few techniques after all...

Probably as a result of being made after DRUNKEN MASTER (and being a sequel), there is a lot of comedy involved in this film. I’ve said it before, but I really don’t think the Shaw Brothers writers really ‘got’ comedy, and this is another largely witless and unfunny attempt. The exception is the great scene early on where Chou, imitating San Te, uses a series of tricks to make believe he’s the real McCoy. Apart from that, the humour is lame in the extreme and gets extremely tiresome after a while.

Thankfully, like the original film, this has a three-act structure, and the second and third acts are nowhere near as bad as the first. In the second act, the film picks up considerably when Chou starts his training (unbeknownst to himself). The section is not as good as in the original, but has plenty of good stuff in there – like Chou washing his face by throwing a large rock into well and using the splashback to his advantage. And of course, you’ve got all the scaffolding work, which doesn’t take a genius to foretell is going to come in useful at a later point. Unfortunately, the larking about during the first part of the film eats far too much time and we’re left with a rather curtailed training section when compared to the first film. But what’s there is good, and that’s the main thing.

The third and final act, where Chou takes on the dye factory bosses, is actually an improvement on the original film in that it doesn’t feel like an anti-climax after all the hardship the lead character goes through. Also, like MARTIAL CLUB (and like a lot of Shaw films from this period), almost all of it was filmed inside the studio. When the climax comes, the players go outdoors for real, and this feels almost like the film is breaking out of prison.

It goes without saying that the action scenes are magnificent, this being a Lau Kar-Leung film. The only downside being that there aren’t any real action scenes early on. But as mentioned above, that early section does let the side down for many reasons. Don’t let it put you off, though, because after the initial segment the film is really an excellent example of the period. And one hell of a neat idea for a sequel.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: PAUL MARTINEZ
Date: 07/04/2007
Summary: Better than Master Killer

This is one of my All-Time Favorite Kung Fu Films. A strong mix of comedy, drama and action. Which in my eyes made this more enjoyable than its predecessor.

As noted in earlier reviews this is not a true sequel. It is based on the same premise of someone going to the Shaolin Temple to ultimately gain revenge on those who have wronged him. The difference is the overall tone is a much more light-hearted affair. I normally loathe Kung Fu comedies. This however is actually pretty amusing at points without being over the top slapsticky.

Gordon Liu gives one of his best performances here. The comedic stuff is on-time and not too silly. While the few dramatic scenes were very believable and polished. Johhny Wang Lung Wei gives his usual solid job as well.

Hardly any fight scenes till the end but the time spent fixing the chambers roofs was well done. You could start to see what was happening. When the final fights took place hey were top notch. I liked the use of the benches myself.

Overall I really recommend this movie. Especially if you liked Master Killer as I think you may like this more.

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: Frank Lakatos
Date: 12/08/2005
Summary: Excellent Shaw brothers comedy drama

Everything that had to be said about this movie has been said in these reviews, so I'll add whatever else has to be said, and it's mostly the same thing said again. This is a well written and shot kung fu comedy and drama, which was professionally and artistically handled. Gordon Liu Chia Hui handles the dramatic scenes with beautiful contrasts of emotions and the script takes usesful sentimental turns. The fight scenes are powerful and tightly choreographed, which is unlike some of the Shaw movies made at that time. Korean kickers Kwon Young Moon and Jang Ill Do play menacing manchus(believable because they are Korean and they can differentiate themselves from the rest of the Chinese actors, which makes their roles natural to them). However, there is one gripe. The fact that Liu Chia Hui doesn't learn any real kung fu makes his tecnhical defense against Wang Lung Wei and the rets of the fighters unbelievable. This is in more of the line of Dreadnaught(1981), where the characters learn kung fu using bits and pieces of real kung fu, quickness and power developed through a unique training method, and wits, instead conventional kung fu training. Highly recommended. ****/*****

Reviewed by: pjshimmer
Date: 03/30/2005
Summary: Excellent movie

In reality, this movie is not really connected to Master Killer (aka 36th Chamber of Shaolin). The only connection between the 2 movies is the character San Te, which is played the DIFFERENT actors in the 2 movies. In any event, RETURN is an impressive kung fu film that combines martial arts with a rarely seen traditional skill (Bamboo scaffolding) to produce exciting fight scenes. There is some comedy, which I for one found genuinely funny, never annoying.


Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 01/19/2004
Summary: 3/5

*** RETURN TO THE 36th CHAMBER: Largely misconceived sequel that has Gordon Liu playing a charlatan pretending to be a Shaolin Monk, and rather an asshole... but around about the 1 hour mark it shifts into training mode, Gordon gets to show his skills at last and the film gets better and better until a blistering final fight scene that gets the film most of its 3 stars.

Reviewer Score: 6

Reviewed by: Sydneyguy
Date: 10/04/2003
Summary: Ok i guess..........

I saw this movie with hype about it and i was disappointed.

Though the plot is simple, the time just seemed to fly away when u watch this. Does that make it good though because it was so easy to watch?

Well i have seen many kung fu movies where training seems to be the focus of the movie but this movie's training, though logical and impressive, seems a little dull in comparsion to other movies.

I am a big fan of liu chia hui but this is not one of his better movies. The action itself is quite good, though people fighting with benches is a little out there.

It's not the worst movie but it's not the best. time flies when u watch this movie but i am not sure if thats a good or bad thing.


Reviewed by: CaptainAmerica
Date: 06/13/2002
Summary: Romping through the 36th Chamber!

Talk about a surprise! After seeing 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN aka THE MASTER KILLER, I immediately sought out its sequel...and it thoroughly sent my expectations into a pleasant tailspin! Gordon Liu doesn't reprise his part as San Te...in fact, Ging Chue takes that role and runs with it!...but instead Liu plays the part of Chen Chi, who turns out to be a low-rent hawker and actor by trade!

The action opens when those damn Manchus take over a cloth dyeing shop, cutting the wages of the workers as a result...and as if that wasn't bad enough, the workers can't quit in protest because if they do, Manchu strongarms will beat the crap out of them! That's when they get the inspiration to ask Chen Chi -- who's already gussied up like a monk, bald dome and all! -- to masquerade as San Te and intimidate the intimidating Manchus! It works at first (thanks to some exuberant group choreography and wires!) but their leader, a martial arts master, sees through Chen Chi and sends him packing. The workers are worse off than before and Chen Chi's humiliated...but he decides to go to San Te's 36th Chamber to learn the martial arts and make a comeback! What happens next you have to see for yourself...but trust me, you'll never look at twine the same way again!

This film has a much lighter, more comedic tone than its predecessor...you can still take the situations and the characters seriously, but it's clear that a lot of fun was had with this return to the themes of the original. Things are a lot more elaborate this time, too. The 36th Chamber itself is recreated as an open courtyard wherein the 35 disciplines are learned in a spectacular array. And instead of a climax of vengeful mortal combat as we saw in the original, in this film's rollicking finale the Manchus fight Chen Chi with poles and...uh...benches! (But you won't believe Chen Chi's counterattack!)

Highly recommended!

Reviewed by: SBates
Date: 03/12/2001
Summary: An Exceptional Film

I am not the biggest fan of later Liu Chia Liang. I love Executioners From Shaolin, Challenge of the Masters, maybe Master Killer, and that's about it; his other films are good but not as great as these. , . This is my favorite post 1979 LCL movie, and one of my favorite kung-fu pictures of all time. A clever comic storyline, Gordon Liu plays off his usual persona as the stern Buddhist monk, and the pace and fighting are terrific, the best Liu had done to that point. One of the smartest kung fu comedy films; a far cry ffrom the illiterate slapstick the genre usually provides. .
This was in my opinion his last good movie, with the exception of Legendary Weapons of China.

Reviewed by: leonbraun
Date: 02/27/2001
Summary: This terrific Liu Chia Hui movie surpasses "The 36th Chamber of Shaolin" in almost every respect

Return to the 36th Chamber tells the story of a young Chinese cloth dyer (Liu Chia Hui), who vows revenge when he and his friends are bullied by Manchu thugs. He runs away to the Shaolin temple to learn Kung Fu, but is refused as a student. Nevertheless he stays on at the temple, slaving away as a servant, while he watches the monks practise kung fu. Time passes, and he returns to his friends, bitterly disappointed. But when his fighting skills are tested, he is more surprised than anyone to discover that maybe he did learn kung fu after all!

This terrific Liu Chia Hui movie surpasses "The 36th Chamber of Shaolin" in almost every respect. It's better written, directed, and acted, and the production values are considerably higher. It makes the most of Liu's considerable talent for comedy, and the early scenes when he impersonates the famous monk San Te are hilarious! The training sequences are less "fantastic" than those of The 36th Chamber, but far more entertaining, and highly informative for serious martial artists. The fighting is surprisingly modern-looking; Liu's Hung Gar kung fu, acrobatics and weapons-play wouldn't look out of place in a modern Jet Li movie. The end might be a bit of a let-down for those seeking the brutal climax of other such revenge flicks - the baddie Manchus get away with little more than a severe beating, and overall the tone is much lighter than "The 36th Chamber", but if you're looking for a great kung fu movie, then look no further than this early eighties Shaw brothers masterpiece.