Title: Return to the 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1980)
Director: Chia-Liang Liu
One of my favorite comedies ever (and I’m sure a lot of you guys and gals out there will agree with me) is John Landis’s The Three Amigos (1986). If you guys remember correctly that film is about a threesome of actors who get fired by the studio who finances their films for asking for a raise. Then the unexpected happens! The people of a small town called Santo Poco call upon The Three Amigos to help them stop a villain who is terrorizing their town. They think they are being asked to perform as actors, to play the cowboys that they play in their movies. But what they don’t know is that they are being asked to really go up against the villain known as El Guapo, because the people of the small town of Santo Poco think that The Three Amigos are real crime fighting cowboys! Hilarity ensues. This formula was used again in Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder (2008), a movie where a bunch of actors making a war movie think they are going up against actors, when in reality, they are going up against a real life drug traffickers! Return to the 36th Chamber of Shaolin played with this same premise.
This film tells the story of a group of workers who are being stiffed by their boss. They are getting paid less then minimum wages for their work. That’s right; their salaries have been cut in half! When they complain, they get their asses kicked by their boss’s henchmen. So they decide to play a trick on their boss. They will ask an actor to impersonate a Shaolin Monk and scare their boss into paying them what they deserve! And that’s exactly what they do. They ask a local actor named Chao Jen to pretend to be a Shaolin Monk. The plan being that the actor puts up a show (choreographed along with the workers) to make it look like he has all these special martial arts abilities, which of course he doesn’t. Hopefully, this will scare their boss into paying them properly. The trick works for a while, and the workers get their money. Problem comes when the boss realizes he has been fooled! The boss sends his henchman to kick Chao Jen’s ass to kingdom come! This is when Chao Jen decides to put acting aside and really go to the famous Shaolin Temple to get a real education on Kung Fu! Will he get accepted in the legendary temple of Shaolin? Will he learn Kung Fu and help the workers get the wages they so rightfully deserve?
Yup, this film is a comedy
Return to the 36th Chamber of Shaolin is an indirect sequel to the Kung Fu Classic The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978), which is one of the most influential and important Kung Fu movies ever made. This sequel is in name only because it does not follow the story line from the first movie, which ended with its main character San Te finally mastering all the 35 Chambers of Shaolin and all the techniques that each one of them teaches, and then opening his own Chamber, the titular 36th Chamber. This sequel has nothing to do with that storyline. It simply presents us with a whole different story line, which revolves around the Temple of Shaolin. At the same time, both films have a similarity because they are both about one guy going to the temple to get his Kung Fu training, so he can later come back to his home town and show a villain some manners. Another similarity is that like the original, this one stars Gordon Liu playing the main character.
At the same time, both films are very different. For example, this sequel is a comedy while the original film was played deadly serious, without a strand of comedy in it. This second one is a comedy right from the get go. Now, before you go on deciding not to watch this one because it is essentially a comedy, let me tell you one thing: this is actually a good sequel to the original! Even though it has comedy in it, it’s still a good Shaolin Temple/Kung Fu flick. The fact that it’s different in tone doesn’t make it a lesser film in my opinion, though I’m sure the comedic elements might turn off a lot of you who wanted a serious Shaolin flick to follow up the classic that preceded this one. And I totally understand that point of view because I felt the same way, until I actually saw this one. It is a fun, though definitely less profound film than its predecessor.
Chao Jen trains by watching
It has the same basic formula of having a newbie trying to master the different techniques that are taught in the temple. When the character emerges from the temple, he is a fully equipped Kung Fu Master ready to take on evil! Which is really where the fun comes into these movies, seeing the characters trying to master the different techniques. Only on this film, he doesn’t really get accepted into the temple. The Monks ask Chao Jen to build a bamboo scaffolding around the temple for the temples 10 year restoration, and that then, if he finishes the scaffolding, he might get accepted. This allows for Chao to invent a new form of Kung Fu using bamboo which he later calls “Scaffolding Kung Fu!” In the films final confrontation he uses Bamboo’s to kick the villains asses. Pretty cool stuff.
Kung Fu Master at long last!
This is a lighter hearted Kung Fu flick, but it’s still very good. If you want to check out a Kung Fu flick that is not so deadly serious about everything, this one is worth a watch.
Rating: 4 out of 5