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Issue #162 HOME E-mail: mail@dighkmovies.com BACK ISSUES June 2nd , 2003

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin
(1978; Shaw Brothers)

A Masterpiece
Highly Recommended
Very Good
Marginal Recommendation
Not Recommended
Definitely Not Recommended

Cantonese: Siu lam saam sap luk fong
Mandarin: Shao lin san shi liu fang
English: Shaolin 36th Chamber

Alternate English Title: Master Killer, Shaolin Master Killer

Boasting outstanding martial arts and fascinating training sequences, this Lau Kar-leung favorite is often cited as the greatest kung fu movie produced to date, a reputation that is well-deserved. After his family and friends are massacred by Manchu soldiers (under the command of General Tien, played by Lo Lieh), ethics student Liu Yu-te (Gordon Lau Kar-fai, aka Gordon Liu) journeys to Shaolin Temple and becomes a monk, so that he may learn kung fu and get revenge. Re-named San Te, he spends the next year doing menial tasks before beginning his martial training. He must pass through 35 chambers in which he will be instructed, via torturous tests of endurance, on how to increase speed and improve his balance. After a year of instruction in these areas, he progresses on to weapons training. The most proficient and talented student in the history of Shaolin Temple, San Te masters every technique in only five years and even invents a new weapon: the three-section staff. Ejected from the temple because he wished to teach Shaolin techniques to the people (the 36th chamber of the title), San Te proceeds to recruit a group of students (including Wong Yue and Norman Tsui Siu-keung) and take revenge on those who murdered his family.

While it does not fully dispense with the vengeance theme found in far too many period kung fu yarns, the emphasis on training here is a welcome departure. The exercises are quite ingenious in form and function and the director presents each new challenge with enough visual flair and gentle humor to engender and maintain viewer interest, as San Te gradually makes his way through each consecutive chamber. With his angelic face, expressive eyes, and superb skills, Gordon Lau proved himself one of the greatest kung fu stars of the 70s and, thanks to this film's international success, all but found himself typecast as a monk from then on. Hsiao Hou and Peter Chan Lung can be glimpsed among the monks and the latter also plays one of San Te's teachers; Lee Hoi-sang, Simon Yuen Siu-tien, Chan Shen, and Wilson Tong Wai-shing also appear. A marginally related and predominantly comic sequel, RETURN TO THE 36TH CHAMBER, followed in 1980. The director's brother, Lau Kar-wing, appears briefly as a doomed rebel general.

Cover art courtesy Intercontinental.

Back cover art courtesy Intercontinental.
Intercontinental #612480 (Hong Kong label)

Dolby Digital 5.1

Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks (both post-synced)

Optional Subtitles in English, Traditional Chinese, Malaysian, and Indonesian

12 Chapters Illustrated in the Menu With Clips

Enhanced for 16:9 Displays

Letterboxed (2.35:1)

Coded for Region 3 Only

NTSC Format

111 Minutes (at 25 frames-per-second)

Contains moderate violence

DVD menu courtesy Intercontinental.

Australia: M 15+ (Moderate Violence)
Great Britain: 18
Hong Kong: IIB
Nova Scotia: 14
Ontario: PG
Singapore: PG
United States: R

Colors look far more accurate and attractive than the unauthorized, squeezeboxed Crash Cinema DVD, and print imperfections have been digitally removed. Detail levels are also improved significantly. A pair of scenes in the final reel look a bit pale and washed out but, overall, the disc offers a satisfying presentation. That said, the image is not as sharp as it should be, particularly when compared with the company's previous 4:3 letterbox titles. I've only seen two other 16:9 Celestial titles thus far (THE LIZARD and THE MAGNIFICENT TRIO) and they are also softer than usual. While some DVD players' downconversion can be responsible for this change in image quality, my Jaton is not among them, leading one to wonder whether these are actually true 16:9 transfers or has Celestial simply altered 4:3 letterbox masters, as Columbia Tristar did with ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA I-III? In any event, the disc remains the best option for this title by far.The stereo re-mix is generally unobtrusive, as are some minor imperfections in the original sound source. The Cantonese audio master was either damaged or missing a brief section; from 1:28:24 to 1:28:43, new voice artists have added in the lost dialogue.

Considering the stature this movie has attained over the years, the supplementary materials are pretty underwhelming. No HK trailer is included, just the one produced for international English markets. Aside from the usual promo spots, photo gallery, HK poster, and skimpy bios/filmographies, the only noteworthy extra is a 16 minute documentary. "Shaolin -- A Hero Birthplace" (sic) provides some decent background on Shaolin Temple and a few interesting comments from Gordon Lau. However, much of the brief running time is wasted with clips and filler. Let us hope that Celestial can come up with something better when they issue the other Lau classics, particularly THE LEGENDARY WEAPONS OF CHINA and EIGHT DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER.

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