J.D. Lafrance
The 36th Chamber of Shaolin DVD Review

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin

July 2, 2007

Director: Liu Chia-Liang,
Starring: Gordon Liu, Wang Yu, Lo Lieh, Liu Chia-Yung, Hsu Shao-Chiang, Yu Yang, Frankie Wei, Hua Lun,

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DVD Review

J.D. Lafrance

The folks at Dragon Dynasty have done it again, releasing another classic of the kung fu genre, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (also known as The Master Killer and Shaolin Master Killer), in pristine condition with a number of excellent extras as support. The film was released in 1978 and produced by the legendary Shaw Brothers Studio. The main character is based on an actual historical figure that existed during the Manchu Dynasty but his life has been highly fictionalized for the movie.

A group of students are studying at Chong Wen College when one of them, Liu Yu-De (Liu), has a run in with Tang San-Yao, an enforcer for the Manchu government, a tyrannical regime. Their teacher, Mr. Ho, plots with a group of his students against the government. In response to the rebellion, several students accused of being spies are rounded up, tortured for information and eventually killed. Soon, Yu-De and Mr. Ho become targets and the young student’s father is killed in retaliation.

Gravely wounded by San-Yao, Yu-De flees to a nearby Shaolin Temple to learn kung fu so that he can eventually get revenge on the Manchu government. The monks take him in and nurse him back to health, renaming him San Ta. He starts briefly at the top chamber and quickly realizes that he’s not ready for it. So, he begins at the bottom, working on the fundamentals – balance, power and speed. From there, he moves onto building up arms strength, weapons training and so on. These are grueling tests of strength, endurance and dexterity. San Ta is a quick learner and soon excels at every test he faces.

What’s interesting about The 36th Chamber of Shaolin is that once our hero enters the Temple, the tone of the film takes on a decidedly more philosophical one as the monks practice a sound mind as well as a sound body. Once San Ta leaves the temple, he actually puts into practice what he learned and we see just how far he has come. The climatic scene comes when we watch as San Ta systematically dismantles the Manchu government’s forces and it is an impressive sight to behold, but is only a warm-up for the even more exciting confrontation he has with the evil general.

The film was so successful that it spawned two sequels, Return to the 36th Chamber (1980) and Disciples of the 36th Chamber (1985). It also inspired several albums by legendary rap band, the Wu-Tang Clan. For those of you who only know Gordon Liu from his appearances in the Kill Bill films, this IS the movie that really showcases his considerable talents and a must-see for any fan of the kung fu genre.

Special Features:

There is an audio commentary by film critic Andy Klein and the Rza of the Wu-Tang Clan. They kick things off by talking about Gordon Liu’s impressive martial arts skills and how he is one of the best stars of kung fu cinema. The Rza saw this film at an impressionable age and was amazed at how it depicted ancient history of a culture he was unfamiliar with. He really knows his kung fu cinema, identifying key actors in the film and other ones that they went on to appear in. The Rza comes off as a wonderful surprise as he speaks very knowledgably, not in a dry, boring way, but with the enthusiasm of a fan. He leaves Klein in the dust as he dominates this track.

“Shaolin: A Hero Birthplace” takes a look at the Shaolin Temple and their philosophy with Gordon Liu offering his take. It is said that kung fu originated at the temple 1,500 years ago and that a lot of what is depicted in the film is based on actual unofficial history. Liu speaks admiringly of his brother, who directed the film, and still sees him as a mentor.

“Interview with Star Gordon Liu” sees this legendary martial artist talk about his humble beginnings. Despite his family’s wishes, he studied kung fu at an early age, picking Hung Fist, one of the most challenging disciplines. After he graduated, Liu says that he became a teacher and then a stuntman on kung fu films. This led him to starring in them.

“Interview with Film Critic/Scholars David Chute and Andy Klein.” They point out that one of the things that makes The 36th Chamber of Shaolin a great film is that it was made by a martial artist, starring martial artists and its political aspects.

“Interview with The Rza.” He says that he first saw the film in a grungy theatre on 42nd Street in New York City. He talks about how kung fu films resonated with the black community when he was growing up. He also speaks admiringly of the Shaw Brothers films and how they inspired the name for his band, the Wu-Tang Clan.

Also included are three trailers, including a vintage T.V. commercial with an alternate title, Master Killer.

There is a Stills Gallery with posters and promotional photographs.

Finally, there is “Wu-Tang Clan Concert Video,” a brief clip from one of their dynamic live shows.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance


Rating: 94%



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