review by Jerome

Support the Site by Buying from YesAsia

Gordon Liu at his very best…
The Chinese title is a direct translation of the English title. In Cantonese it’s called Siulam Saam Sap Luk Fong. In Mandarin it’s called Shaolin San Shi Liu Fang.

Lau Gar Leung is well known for being a martial arts director. He wanted to do the impossible: create a kung fu epic about the making of a Shaolin Kung Fu master – “a love story of the spirit,” as he called it. The result was Shaw Bro’s number one hit of 1978, the 24th Asian Film Festival’s Best Martial Arts Award Winner, and is considered a trendsetting and innovative masterpiece throughout the world.

The film’s story tells of a Cantonese Student Lau Yu Dak / Liu Yu Te (Gordan Liu) and his involvement in a rebellion against the Manchu / Qing government officials who discriminate against the Han Chinese. He is encouraged by Teacher Ho and his fellow students to fight for the cause. When Lau Yu Dak sees the corpse of heroic general Yan / Yin (Lau Gar Wing) and calls him a “Great Chinese Hero”, he is accused of being in association with the rebellious general. He is spared from punishment for the moment; it is not until he uses his father’s Seafood business as a means of smuggling messages off to Lord Cheng that causes great suspicion among the local Qing officials, General Tien Ta / Tin Taap (Lo Lieh), Commander Tang San Yao / Tong Saam Yiu (Wilson Tong) and Commander Cheng / Sing (Cheung Ng Long). All the suspected students from the same school are arrested. As a result of his involvement, Lau Yu Dak loses his father while on the run with his friend. They both decide to flee to the Southern Shaolin temple to learn kung fu. However, it’s Lau Yu Dak that survives the journey.

Injured due to the pursuit, he hides in a food basket that stores the Shaolin Monks’ vegetarian orders from a local grocer. He is eventually cured of his injuries while staying at the temple and is made a monk, given the Buddhist Name Saam Dak / San De which means “three virtues” and seeks to learn the martial arts of the 35 chambers.
The training is gruelling and tough. Within a five year time period, Saam Dak is promoted to the supervisor of a particular chamber due to mastery all the particular styles of kung fu, which trains the body, senses and in weapons. He instead proposes to create the 36th chamber as a means of recruiting laymen as pupils and training them to fight against the Qing government. While the abbot refuses this request, as punishment for this, Saam Dak is sent to seek alms in his hometown. While there he recruits Hung Hei Goon, Miller Six (Wong Yu), Tung Chin Gan (Yu Yeung) and Luk

Ah Choi (Norman Tsui) as his lay disciples in the hope to get rid of general Tien Ta (Lo Lieh).

Lau Ga Fai is perfect for the role as Saam Dak. As a professional martial arts practitioner his presence is felt with every movement in his displays of the Hung Gar form, Iron Thread (tit sin kuen) during the opening credits. His character is incredible in that normally it takes much longer than five years to master a particular style of kung fu. As his character is given the option to be responsible for overseeing a particular chamber in Shaolin, he must first beat the Shaolin legate officer’s (Lee Hoi Sang) butterfly knives. After many sparring matches using a variety of weapons but failing to beat the legate officer’s knives, he invents the three-sectioned staff while practicing with a crescent spade in the forest.

Lo Lieh as General Tien Ta / Tin Taap gives a good supporting performance as the film’s villain. He is basically the fear-mongering tyrant wishing to rid Canton of Lord Cheng’s rebels. In the fight he has with Gordan Lau, he brandishes the two Chinese broadswords used to eliminate Lau Gar Wing’s character, General Yan / Yin (Lau Gar Wing). However, he is outmatched by Gordan’s character Saam Dak.

Wong Yu, Norman Tsui, Yu Yeung are given the supporting roles of Miller Six, Luk Ah Choi and Tung Chin Gan. Their involvement in ridding Canton of the Qing bastards mainly consists of pouring rice flour over the soldier’s heads above the city gates.

Wilson Tong and Cheung Ng Long give good support as the two commanders that give Gordan Lau some great fights. Although, he and his pupils defeat them both their performances are just as ruthless as Lo Lieh’s.

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin can be bought either from IVL (Intercontinental Video Limited) from Hong Kong or from Dragon Dynasty (A US brand owned by the Weinstein Company, Genus Products). Each edition has it’s own unique special features and the film print is sourced from Celestial Pictures. A particular feature that exists on both editions called “Shaolin: A Hero’s birthplace” is hosted by Gordan Lau. This explores the concepts in the film and how it relates to the historical significance that Shaolin has on the development of kung fu.

The success of the 36th Chamber of Shaolin generated two sequels, Return to The 36th Chamber (1980) and Disciples of the 36th Chamber (1984) both of which will be reviewed later on. If you like traditional kung fu training telling the story, don’t miss out on this kung fu classic.

I rate it 9/10

Comment on this movie on HK Neo Reviews Forum

Genre: Kung Fu / Action / Epic
Director: Liu Chia Liang (Lau Gar Leung)

Starring: Gordan LIU Chia Hui (Lau Gar Fai), LIU Chia Rong (Lau Gar Wing), YU Yang (Yu Yeung), WANG Yu (Wong Yu), Wilson TANG Wei Cheng (Tong Wai Sing), YUEN Siu Tin, Norman Tsui (Chui Siu Keung), LO Lieh (Lo Lit), CHEN Si Jie, WAH Lun, HON Gwok Choi, CHEUNG (Jeung) Ng Long, LEE (Lei) Hoi Sang, NG Hang Sang, Peter CHAN Lung, Austin WAI Tin Chi, WAI Wang.

Trailer/Short Clip: