Written by: Michael Den Boer on April 25th, 2004
Theatrical Release Date: Hong Kong, 1978
Director: Chia-Liang Liu
Writers: Ni Kuang, Eric Tsang Chi-wai
Cast: Gordon Liu , Lo Lieh, Liu Chia-yung, Wang Yu
DVD Released: August 27th, 2003
Approximate Running Time: 111 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1
DVD Release: Celestial Pictures
Region Coding: Region 3 NTSC
Retail Price: $17.95
Synopsis: During the Qing dynasty, a young student named Liu Yu-De (Gordon Liu) secretly helps fight oppressive Manchu forces. When the Manchu forces capture Liu’s co-conspirators and kill his family.
He escapes to the Shaolin temple where he hopes to learn the art of Kung Fu so that he can teach it to the people so that they can defend themselves against the Manchu forces. After the Shaolin have accepted Liu renaming him San Te and he has been with them for a year. He asks them if they will teach him Kung Fu and as his training progresses his training ends up being much harder than he expected. In order to complete his training San Te will have to pass through all the 35 chambers. Each chamber has been designed to challenge an aspect of the human endurance and sharpen his mind. He quickly masters the basics as he moves on to actual kung fu and weapons training.
Shaolin Temple is the source of all kung fu and the Buddhist headquarters were divided into Northern and Southern temples. After the death of Bruce Lee martial art movies started to lose their appeal with general audiences. The Lau Brothers (Gordon Lau Kar-fai, aka Gordon Liu and Lau Kar-wing) had built up a following and reputation while making films for the Shaw Brothers. With the 36th Chamber of Shaolin the Lau Brothers would push the martial art cinema to the forefront of mainstream cinema and its reputation as one of the greatest martial arts film ever made is well deserved.
The story may be simple and the characters may not be the strongest. What make’s The 36th Chamber of Shaolin is its outstanding martial arts and exceptional training sequences that lift this vengeance theme kung fu film a notch above the rest. Lau Kar-wing’s direction is sure handed and inspired as he infuses elements of real kung fu with grace and humor thought behind every move. Most of the films success is do to the brilliant performance from Gordon Liu who shaved his head for this role and kept the look ever since. By the late 1970’s Gordon Liu would prove himself as one of the greatest kung fu stars of the decade and Warner Brothers after the death of Bruce Lee approached Gordon Liu as Lee’s Successor. They would change their mind and hire Yul Brynner instead as the lead in The Ultimate Warrior. The action scenes are an important aspect to the films success and its focus on the journey of Liu Yu-De to become a fighter is a key element to the films charm.
Presented in an excellent 2:35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and the level of detail is impressive. This lavishly restored print is the best the film has looked since it’s initial release 26 years ago. The colors are bold and are extremely pleasing to the eye. Celestial has done a very good job on the transfer and my only complaint is that a couple scenes near the end of the movie looked a little bit soft.
Mandarin and Catonese Dolby Digital Mono audio options and English subtitles are provided they are easy to read and follow. Celestial has cleaned up the audio and the dialogue is clear and free of distortion.
Considering the following this film has built up over the years this DVD is lacking in extras. Cast and crew info, two trailers of the movie (No HK trailer), only trailers for the international English markets. Also trailers for new Shaw Brothers releases and a picture gallery. The main extra on this DVD is a 16 minute documentary “Shaolin — A Hero Birthplace”. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin features some of the most powerful images of kung fu training ever committed to film. The film marked the beginning of a remarkable string of hits that made Gordon Liu a star worldwide. This film is a must-have and everyone with multi-region capabilities who loves kung fu movies should own this DVD.