Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

My first review is of a film that not only happens to be my favorite kung fu flick of all time, but is also the namesake of this blog: The 36th Chamber of Shaolin.

Plot summary:
San Te (Gordon Liu), an anti-Manchu patriot, seeks refuge in the Shaolin Temple after his comrades and family are killed. In order to get revenge for their murders, he begins training in Shaolin martial arts, honing his skills in the titular chambers, each one designed to teach a different skill.

The film has been hailed by many as the greatest kung fu movie of all time, and that's no understatement. Produced by Shaw Brothers Studio during the company's heyday, the film boasts rather high production values (for its time) and decent performances all around. The fight choreography is also well done, though it may seem a little slow to viewers weaned on more contemporary martial arts fare. The real draws here, however, are the endlessly inventive training sequences wherein San Te struggles to master new skills in unique and often painful ways, building himself up to the point where he can finally exact his revenge on his enemies. It's fascinating stuff, and a refreshing change of pace from the typical beat-'em-up style storylines typically associated with this genre.

The American DVD release of the film is quite well put together. Produced by Dragon Dynasty, the disc is a nearly identical to the remastered Region 3 release, right down to the bonus features. The American release goes one better, however, boasting both an exclusive commentary track as well as an English audio track not present on the Region 3 release. The end result is a really nice disc, far superior to the bare bones treatment these types of films usually receive when they're released on DVD here in the US. This fact, along with the sheer greatness of the film itself make it a must own for every self-respecting kung fu fan.

1) Star Gordon Liu appeared in both Kill Bill films, playing a different character in each one.
2) The film spawned two sequels; Return to the 36th Chamber (1980) and Disciples of the 36th Chamber (1985).

Link(s) of interest:
The 36th Chamber of Shaolin theatrical trailer

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