Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Kant Miss Kung Fu Klassics: Return to the 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1980)

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

 Return To The 36th ChamberThe 36th Chamber of ShaolinShaolin Master Killer (Widescreen Edition)


venoms5 said...

This one grew on me over the years. I used to not like it at all since nobody dies in it. Liu Chia Liang (Lau Kar Leung) had a penchant for comedies. Sometimes the funny business was overbearing (like his MY YOUNG AUNTIE and LADY IS THE BOSS), but you could always count on him delivering some great choreography.

Liu's dad was also the grand student of Wong Fei Hung. Gordon Liu is Liu Chia Liang's adopted brother. Gordon Liu plays the San Te character in DISCIPLES OF THE 36TH CHAMBER (1984). One other movie from Liu Chia Liang that is really good is HEROES OF THE EAST (1978) also starring Gordon Liu (this time with hair), Yasuaki Kurata and Yuko Mizuno. It's another movie where nobody dies, but the plot is really good.

Despite Jackie Chan getting the credit for starting kung fu comedy with SNAKE IN THE EAGLE'S SHADOW (1978), Liu Chia Liang did it first with SPIRITUAL BOXER in 1975.

Liu avoided the violent style of Chang Cheh and other directors, but poured on the gore for THE 8 DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER (1984), the last movie of Fu Sheng who was killed in a car accident during filming.

HEROES OF THE EAST is out from DD, Fran, and 8 DIAGRAM is coming at the end of the month I think. They just released Cheh's venom classic, CRIPPLED AVENGERS yesterday.

Franco Macabro said...

I know what you mean about having to wait for this one to grow on you. As soon as I put it on the DVD and got the comedy vibe through the music and the dialog I was a bit let down, I immediately thought that it was gonna be a lesser film, but then I gave it a chance and it was actually good. You just have to adjust yourself to the fact that its a comedy.

I dont know if DISCIPLES OF THE 36TH CHAMBER is available yet, but Im going to find out!

Yeah, I saw that 8 DIAGRAM was being released soon, so Im looking forward to that one!

This weekend Im hoping that I'll own KING BOXER and RETURN OF THE FIVE DEADLY VENOMS, which if I'm not mistaken is also a Chang Cheh film right? On the box it says that its the best of the VENOM movies, care to comment?

venoms5 said...

RETURN OF THE FIVE DEADLY VENOMS is a made name from one of the bootleg releases of the movie. That's CRIPPLED AVENGERS I mentioned in the first comment. It played here in theaters and TV as MORTAL COMBAT. I have an original HK poster of it hanging in my living room. It's one of the best from Chang Cheh. It's on part 1 of the list I did.

Since you really dig weapons, Fran, you're gonna love the retractable iron hands that shoot darts. Also, when you get a hold of 5 ELEMENT NINJAS you're gonna shit your pants when you see this one weapon in particular that would make both Batman and Bond envious.

Franco Macabro said...

Duuude! Im going to be in Kung Fu heaven this weekend! Ha ha ha! Looking forward to those movies! The copy Im buying of it is the one the Weinstein Company is releasing I guess thats why they call it Return of the Five Deadly Venoms. It's got a nifty looking dvd cover!

venoms5 said...

Prior to that, this bootleg company called Crash Cinema released it widescreen with average pic quality and terrible sound with that fake computer generated title card on it. The DD print should have the original CRIPPLED AVENGERS moniker. I assume they used that fake title on the box since it's been referred to under that title for the last few years despite it being a made up name.

I wish I still had my VHS with the MORTAL COMBAT title on it. I also had an uncut fullscreen version from Africa that had the original name on it. I was ecstatic to get that one after having spent a bundle on several bootlegs before then hoping to get an uncut version before the Crash disc then finally, the legit IVL DVD from Hong Kong. I'll be picking this one up, too.

Franco Macabro said...

Arrrgh, I hate dvd's like that, where they suddenly freeze the screen and a fake title appears, that really blows. It kind of cheapens the whole movie watching experience in a way.

I dont think these new dvd's will have that, hopefully!

venoms5 said...

I don't think they will, either. None of the venom movies are true sequels, anyway, they're all stand alone features.

Franco Macabro said...

Question Venom: I did a search for Disciples of the 36th Chamber but was not successful, it's not out on dvd is it? Do you consider it a good sequel? Does it divert back to a more serious tone?

venoms5 said...

Yes, it's on DVD in HK. It also played on the Kung Fu HD channel with its original English dub a couple years ago. No, the tone remains from the second movie, but Gordon Liu plays San Te this time. The movie revolves more around the real life hero Fang Si Yu and San Te tries to keep him out of trouble. The fight at the end is damn good.

venoms5 said...

Here's the link for the DVD, Fran. It's still available....

Franco Macabro said...

Thanks man, I'll make that a double order, like you say, to make it worth my while!

venoms5 said...

I just read DD is releasing DISCIPLES to DVD in December with both dubbed and subbed edition.

Franco Macabro said...

Yeeeeeeaaah! Good news! I thought to myself, "if its not out on dvd, then it will only be a matter of time before it is" and now you tell me those great news, cant wait!

Hey Venom, I managed to aquire Return of the Five Deadly Venoms, KING BOXER and Five Element Ninjas! I will be reviewing them this week.


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