Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin

When it comes to Hong Kong and Chinese cinema, I'm still learning. I've seen a few Kung Fu movies here and there, a couple of Wong Kar Wai movies, lots of Stephen Chow and Jackie Chan. Oh, and Infernal Affairs, I own that. Not much else. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin seems like a good place for me to start. It is considered one of the great martial arts movies of all time.

Made in 1978 as a Shaw Brothers production, and directed by Liu Chia-Liang, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin made a star out of a young Gordon Liu, a huge star in his own right, but best known to me as Johnny Mo and Pai Mei in the Kill Bill movies, in the role of San Te. San Te is a young man who joins the monks in Shaolin to learn their brand of Kung Fu, with the goal of introducing it to the oppressed people, and giving them a means to fight back against the Tartars.

A large bulk of the movie basically plays as the most awesome training montage ever. Over half of the movie is San Te's training, succeeding in difficult and painful trials, and climbing the ladder from the 35th Chamber all the way to the top. His first trial is simply finding a way to jump across a pool of water with a bundle of sticks floating in it, in order to get his food.

You'd think it would get boring, but it never does. San Te's single-mindedness and dedication to his goal, and the promise that his lessons will pay off in the end makes the training very engrossing and downright fun to watch. Not to mention the diversity and creativity behind each of the trials. At one point, they strap downward pointing knives to his biceps and make him carry buckets with his arms straight out. If he lowers them, he gets cut. Later, San Te invents a new weapon in order to defeat a higher ranking monk in a duel. Totally awesome.

I was really happy to see it subtitled on the DVD, rather than dubbed. The dubbing is one of the things that keeps me from watching a lot of Chinese movies. I really hate dubbing, and it seems like it's the only way a lot of these old movies are available.

So that's that. Another classic I can now say I've seen. Another gap in my knowledge filled. Next up, I suppose I should probably see Master of the Flying Guillotine, or maybe Hard Boiled or The Killer.


  1. I will admit I haven't seen this, even though, as you pointed out, it's a classic. I'll get around to it. The knives on the arms sounds fantastic.

    Yea, watch Hard Boiled next. You'll never see jumping out of hospital windows while holding a baby in quite the same way ever again.

  2. Yeah, I can't believe I haven't seen Hard Boiled, it's shameful.