36th Chamber of Shaolin

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Posted In: All Movies, Kung Fu Fighting, Kung Fu Movie Reviews, Kung Fu Movies, Martial Arts Movies, Shaolin Kung Fu
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Anyone familiar with the hip-hop super-group the Wu-Tang Clan knows that The 36th Chamber of Shaolin a.k.a. Shaolin Master Killer, directed in 1978 by Liu Chia-Liang, is essential viewing for any serious, self respecting martial arts movie freak. This movie claims responsibility for the whole good-guy-gets-his-butt-kicked-and-undergoes-martial arts-training-to-exact-vengeance storyline that’s been used so many times in the martial arts movies since.

In 36 Chambers, anti-Manchu patriot San Te (Gordon Liu) is a humble country boy who is cast out of his village when Manchu soldiers (led by the villainous Lo Lieh) slaughter his parents, orphaning him. He manages to claw his way to the famous Shaolin Temple, where he is nursed back to health by the monks living there, and soon undergoes a rigorous and dangerous regiment of training to master the 35 “chambers” (styles) of Kung Fu. In seven years time, he completes his training, mastering all 35 styles, invents a brand-new weapon (the three-section staff), and suggests creating a 36th chamber to spread Kung Fu beyond the Shaolin Temple’s walls and bring it to the masses.

The whole story is pretty formulaic (what martial arts movie from the ’70s doesn’t have a formulaic plot?), but what gets this movie going is its rousing training sequences. These are not the run-of-the-mill stuff we’re used to seeing in these movies. San Te’s quest to become a martial arts warrior is a tortuous journey of self-actualization, a kind of virtue commonly lacking in the genre; San Te genuinely becomes a better person as a result of his experiences at the Shaolin Temple.

Most grind-house cinema aficionados love this movie (Wu-Tang Clan co-founder the RZA in “The Wu-Tang Manual” does an entire section on the martial arts movies that influenced his development of the Wu-Tang Clan and much of their underlying philosophy).

Ultimately, this film works on many levels. And it’s truly refreshing to see an old-school martial arts movie that has its heart and brain in the right place. Watch this film! Thomas DiSanto


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