“The 36th Chamber of Shaolin” is a 1978 Hong Kong kung fu action film produced by Shaw Brothers and directed by Lau Kar-leung. Set in China during the Qing dynasty, it depicts a man who masters the martial arts after going through hard training in the Shaolin temple and challenges an evil general to a fight. It stars Gordon Liu. Martial arts instructors are Lau Kar-leung and Wilson Tong Wai-Shing. 115 minutes.
Set in Guangdong, China in the middle of the 17th century. The Ming dynasty of Han Chinese was destroyed by the Qing dynasty led by the Manchu people, and the people are under the control of the Qing dynasty.
A surviving retainer of the Ming dynasty, Zheng Chenggong (Koxinga) is based in Taiwan and has continued the movement for the overthrow of the Qing dynasty and restoration of the Ming dynasty.
A young man named Liu Yude (Gordon Liu), who is the son of a seafood wholesaler and a student of a private school, joins the plot to rise up against the Qing dynasty with his schoolmates under the influence of his school teacher, who is an activist of the anti-Qing and Ming restoration movement.
General Tien Ta (Lo Lieh) of the Qing dynasty orders his subordinate Tang San-yao (Wilson Tong Wai-Shing) to kill every dissident. Yude’s father and friends are killed by Tang San-yao.
Yude decides to seek vengeance on the Qing dynasty and to fight to liberate the people from oppression. He heads for the Shaolin temple to learn the martial arts.
On the way to the Shaolin temple, Yude is found by the group of Tang San-yao, but he manages to escape even though his left leg is seriously injured.
After arriving at the Shaolin temple, Yude passes out from serious injury. The chief abbot appreciates Yude’s patience, and lets Yude stay at the temple.
One year later, Yude is given the name of “San Te (Three Virtues)” as his posthumous Buddhist name, and he begins his martial arts training.
In the martial arts training in the Shaolin temple, a trainee acquires a specific skill in each chamber, and he has to go through 35 chambers.
In the 35 chambers, San Te trains himself in all kinds of skills one by one: balance and lightness (35th chamber), arm strength (34th), wrist strength (33rd), eyesight and reflexes (32nd), head strength (26th), empty-hand fighting forms and techniques (25th), kicking forms and techniques, broadsword techniques, staff techniques, and spiritual training (1st chamber at the highest-level). He passes all the 35 chambers in five years.
The chief abbot allows San Te to become professor of one of the chambers, but Discipline Chief (Lee Hoi-Sang) objects to the proposal because he is concerned about San Te’s desire for revenge. He tells San Te that he will allow San Te to become a professor if San Te fights him and San Te wins.
San Te challenges Discipline Chief to a fight several times, but he cannot win because Discipline Chief is a master of dual wielding. However, after inventing his own weapon, the three section staff, San Te finally prevails.
Though San Te offers to create a new chamber where he can train ordinary people in martial arts, the chief abbot dismisses San Te’s offer. The chief abbot lets San Te leave the temple in the name of making him ask for alms as punishment for going against the uppers because San Te insists on creating the 36th chamber.
San Te returns to his hometown. He finds Hung Hsi-kuan (Henry Yu Yang), a patriot whose fellows were killed by Tang San-yao, being attacked by the group of Tang San-yao. San Te saves Hung Hsi-kuan and beats Tang San-yao. Hung Hsi-kuan becomes San Te’s disciple.
After that, three men also become San Te’s disciples: Lu Ah-cai (Norman Chui Siu-keung), a bamboo worker, Tung Qian-jin (Ng Hong-Sang), a blacksmith, and Chung Mi Liu (Wong Yue), a rice dealer.
San Te attacks the troops under the command of General Tien Ta. A one-on-one battle between San Te with his three section staff and General Tien Ta with two swords begins.
“The 36th Chamber of Shaolin” is a martial arts film masterpiece, which is internationally acclaimed as one of the greatest kung fu films ever made.
Though some characters in the film are historical figures, the story of the film is fictitious.
The film is characterized by that it emphases on the process of San Te’s training in the story.
The highlights of the film are the full-scale kung fu battle sequences in the latter part.
Quentin Tarantino praised the film as “3rd greatest kung fu movie of all time”. He cast Gordon Liu in two, separate roles for “Kill Bill: Volume 1” (2003) and “Kill Bill: Volume 2” (2004).