Martial Arts

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin

Distributed by Celestial Pictures Ltd.

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


            When I first purchased this DVD, I thought I was replacing a film I already had on VHS.  Then I started watching the movie and realized that I had never seen it before.  How is it that I had not seen The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, lauded as one of the greatest martial arts films of all time?!  And a Shaw Brothers film at that?!  I sat back to enjoy the show.

            The 36th Chamber of Shaolin tells a fictionalized account of legendary martial arts disciple San Te.  The son of a dried fish salesman, San Te (Liu Chia-Hui) begins his adventure as a student whose teacher is active in the rebellion against the Manchu government.  Desiring to help the rebellion in any way they can, San Te and his friends begin sneaking messages to and from the rebels in San Teís fatherís fish deliveries.  Unfortunately, they are discovered and government officials destroy the school and kill the families of San Te and his friend.

            On the run from the Manchu, the two decide to head to Shaolin to learn martial arts.  When San Teís companion is murdered and he is wounded, San Teís last hope lies with a local merchant who sells food to the Shaolin monks.  Seeing that San Te is severely injured, the merchant agrees to hide San Te amongst the monksí food delivery.  He is unconscious when he arrives at the Shaolin Temple and the monks nurse him back to health.  Upon regaining his strength, San Te is asked to leave, but begs for the opportunity to train in martial arts. 

            San Te is an attentive student and quick learner.  In no time, he has mastered all 35 Chambers of Shaolin martial arts.  When asked which of the chambers he would like to oversee, San Te explains that he would like to start a 36th Chamber to train people who are not monks in the arts.  His idea is immediately rejected, but San Te is not so easily dissuaded.  Seeing an opportunity to help his people overcome the oppressive Manchu reign, San Te heads back to the village of his youth and takes on students, offering advice and teaching them new tactics and moves.  But can they learn fast enough to present a formidable rebellion against the Manchu army and drive them from their village?

            I canít believe I never saw this movie before!  I have to agree, this may be the best martial arts film I have ever seen.  The story may be fabricated, but the storyline is terrific.  Watching San Te go from being an outsider to a novice to a master in all forms of Shaolin kung fu was exciting.  The creators of the film really went to great lengths to explain the art of Shaolin kung fu and how every body part is important. 

            The fight scenes were terrific.  Too often we see the same moves being used over and over again.  How many times have you watched a martial arts film and seen a guy leaping over and over and over again in one scene.  Even the fights in some of those movies look extremely repetitive.  In The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, each fight is original with not one single move repeated.  This makes each fight scene unique and exciting.

            Even the ending was much better than that of other kung fu films.  This film doesnít just end with the enemy, destroyed by the hero, flopping to the ground and screaming out his final death throes.  No, this film goes beyond the defeat of the enemy, taking us to what happens after the Manchu are defeated.

            The DVD version of The 36th Chamber of Shaolin I purchased contained a bunch of special features, including a Stills Gallery, a Trailer Gallery, Commentary by The RZA of Wu-Tang Clan and Film Critic Andy Klein, Commentator Biographies, Interviews with The RZA and Film Scholars David Chute and Andy Klein, the Concert Video for Wu-Tang Clanís Gravel Pit, an Interview with Gordon Liu (AKA: Liu Chia-Hui) and the documentary Shaolin: A Hero Birthplace.  The documentary is my favorite, featuring the tao of Shaolin, information about the temple and its disciples and an interview with Gordon Liu in which he discusses what the film meant to him and how it contrasts to films made today.

            Iím so glad I accidentally purchased this copy of The 36th Chamber of Shaolin.  Had I not, I would have been missing out on the Shaw Brothersí best kung fu film to date.  The storyline, the fight scenes and the attention to detail all combine to create a terrific film that no fan of martial arts films should miss.


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