The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)
A young student's remarkable kung fu journey at the legendary Shaolin Temple.
Director: Chia-Liang Liu
Writer: Kuang Ni
Stars: Chia-Hui Liu, Lieh Lo, Chia Yung Liu
A young working class student, Liu Yude (Gordon Liu) in search of vengeance against the ruthless Manchu regime, responsible for the massacre of his family and friends, seeks refuge in the famed Shaolin monastery. There he is taught the Shaolin brand of kung-fu through stage by gruelling stage until he becomes a master himself and ventures out into the town to wreak vengeance on the Manchu clan.
More than the terrific action and the absorbing training sequences, it is the personal transformation of Yude [...] that draws viewers into the story
Of course it is what happens in between that makes it such compelling viewing: learning and mastering kung-fu through training the feet, hands, back, neck, head, eyes and most importantly, the mind. Those scenes through the 35 Chambers of the monastery are so memorable that they're burned into the brains of every martial arts fan: the gravity-defying one-legged jump across water, headbutting sand bags, saucers thrown across water that don’t sink, eyes following a swinging torch without moving the neck, broadsword and staff duels.
More than the terrific action and the absorbing training sequences, it is the personal transformation of Yude – from a clumsy outsider (that the monks are not sure what to do with) to a master Shaolin warrior, San Te – that draws viewers into this story. That Yude goes on to head the 36th Chamber of Shaolin where laypeople are allowed to learn kung-fu is the ultimate victory (even more satisfying than his exacting revenge on the brutal head of the government forces).
There are countless martial arts films with more impressive combats, bigger budgets and celebrity stars. But for many fans, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin - directed by Liu Chia-liang and produced by Shaw Brothers - will always be the one film that celebrated the underdog’s journey to personal redemption better than most others.
Sequels - Return To The 36th Chamber (1980) and Disciples Of The 36th Chamber (1985) reunited Director and many of the cast - but without matching the intensity of the spiritual journey of the first film.