The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)
36th Chamber of Shaolin poster
The film follows a highly fictionalized version of San Te, a legendary Shaolin martial arts disciple who trained under the general Chi Shan, portrayed by the director's adopted brother Gordon Liu.
36th Chamber of Shaolin is widely considered to be one of the greatest kung fu films and a turning point in its director's and star's careers. It was followed by Return to the 36th Chamber, which was more comedic in presentation and featured Gordon Liu as the new main character with another actor in the smaller role of San Te, and Disciples of the 36th Chamber.
A young student named San Te is drawn by his activist teacher into the local rebellion against the Manchu government. The government officials suppress the uprising and liquidate the school, killing friends and family members as well. San Te seeks vengeance. Wounded in an attack by Manchu henchmen, he flees to the Shaolin temple and seeks training in kung fu. Initially the Buddhist monks reject him, since he is an outsider, but the chief abbot takes mercy on the young man and lets him stay. One year later, he begins his martial arts training in the temple's 35 chambers and advances more rapidly than any previous student. Along the way, he is depicted as inventing the three section staff.
However, as San Te nears the end of his education, the temple officially exiles him as a disguised way to allow him to aid the people against the oppressors. He returns to the outside world, namely to his hometown, and assists the people by teaching them martial arts. Before the political revolution he is inspiring to complete, he is forced into conflict with the Manchu governor. Finally, he triumphs and returns to the Shaolin temple, where he establishes the 36th chamber, a special martial arts class for common people to learn kung fu without having to become a monk first.
The film received a DVD release by the Weinstein Company's Asian label, Dragon Dynasty on June 19, 2007. The DVD features commentary by the RZA and film critic Andy Klein, and an interview with Gordon Liu. A blu-ray release of the film is scheduled for March 2, 2010 from Vivendi Visual Entertainment.
36th Chamber of Shaolin is widely considered to be one of the greatest kung fu films ever made and a highly influential entry in the genre.
The Wu-Tang Clan named their debut album Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers.