A pure old-school martial arts movie, beloved by aficionados, that also appeals to nonfans simply as a rousing action film. The often-imitated fact-based plot (see The Karate Kid) centers upon the rigorous training process... more » undergone in the mid-19th century by the anti-Manchu Chinese patriot San Te (Gordon Liu). It's depicted as a grueling voyage into the unknown. Cast out of his home village when he stands up to the cruel warlord (Lo Lieh) who slaughtered his parents, the refugee seeks out the martial monks of the Shaolin Temple, who steer him through a torturous series of "chambers"--horrendous ordeals designed to build strength and agility--before he's even allowed to study boxing or swordfighting. Finally he defeats a rival by inventing a brand-new weapon, the three-section chain-linked staff. But innovation can be carried only so far; when San Te suggests opening a "36th chamber" in the temple that would teach Shaolin techniques to the populace at large (so that they can fight the nasty Manchus) he is drummed out of the corps. Naturally he returns to his home village, slaughters the baddies, and prepares to open China's first public Shaolin-style kung fu school. Many of the pupils San Te recruits in the final reel became legendary martial artists in their own right, the "Fathers of the Church" of the Chinese kung fu tradition. This is strong action entertainment with real historical resonance. --David Chute« less
"Gordon Liu (also known as Lau Kar Fai) stars as a young man who's friends and family have been killed by the new government. He wakes up at the Shaolin Temple, a place he has only heard about a couple of times. When he realizes he is at the best place possible to learn kung fu, he begs and begs to learn so that he can revenge his family. He does finally get taught, but has to start with the basics. Every part of his body must become stronger before he can learn how to fight. After he finishes the first stages of training in record time, he is now highly respected and moves onto learning actual fighting styles. He breezes through this and becomes a great fighter in only 5 years or so. This is not one of those movies that has 1 or 2 training sequences. Gordon is shown in at least 13 of the chambers and half of the movie is spent at Shaolin. So after he has become a master fighter, he is given a high honor and told that he can become second in charge of any of the 35 chambers. A senior monk played by the great Lee Hoi San objects to this and says that he can't have this honor unless Gordon defeats him in a weapons duel. Lee Hoi San does not play a villain, but he does not think that Gordon is a good enough fighter to receive so much praise. His plan works better than he could have ever imagined. He ends up helping Gordon improve as a fighter and as a person. Gordon is told he can leave Shaolin now, and he goes to take revenge on the evil General who killed his family.
One thing that sets this movie apart is that it tries to be a real movie, and it succeeds. Watching Gordon grow up into a man is remarkable to see. The commentators didn't notice, but a lot of the stuff in this movie is very real. When Gordon has to use the pole with the wieght on the end to hit the bell over and over again, that is a real weight on the end of the pole! Gordon talks in the interview (included on this disc) about how the sabres that Lo Lieh uses in the final fight are real, and it just makes the movie that much better. Dont expect your average tale of revenge. I was touched deeply when I first saw this and there are not many kung fu movies that have as much meaning and feeling.
Picture quality is remastered very well. It does get a bit darker and lighter in some scenes, but other than slight print damage once or twice, the picture quality is perfect. The Mandarin, Cantonese and English tracks all sound excellent. In fact, I have never heard the English dub sound this good. The subtitles should have been written better, and the English dub is actually a better translation. They are not horribly written, but could have been a lot better. I am not complaining though since this is the only fault on the DVD.
Special features include a great commentary from The RZA and this Andy Klein guy who does not know very much about the genre. Luckily RZA is there to help him point out actors like Lau Kar Wing, Wilson Tong and Hsiao Hou. I found the commmentary enjoyable. RZA talks about his experiences with this movie, and he is definitely a 36th Chamber expert. And I found it pretty funny that he seems to think Gordon Liu is a monk in real life.
The 17 minute interview with Gordon Liu is very interesting. He talks about many things such as training day and night and how great of an honor it was to work with a megastar like Lo Lieh. Gordon skips over the years like people should know what he is talking about, but just in case you don't, I will fill you in. In 1974 Lau Kar Leung was Chang Cheh's top action director and Gordon Liu was cast as a villain alongside Johnny Wang Lung Wei and Leung Kar Yan in movies like '7 Man Army'. When Lau Kar Leung split up with Chang Cheh he started directing his own movies for the Shaw Brothers, starting with 'Spiritual Boxer'. In his next movie 'Challenge of the Masters', Lau Kar Leung cast his younger adopted brother Gordon Liu as the lead. This is what led to Gordon becoming the star of 'The 36th Chamber of Shaolin', the greatest Shaolin Temple movie ever made.
There is a 17 minute documentary on Shaolin that is basically another 17 minutes of awesome info from Gordon Liu.
The 8 minute interview with film critic/scholars Andy Klein and David Shute is a very good description of how great of a movie this is.
The RZA gets a 10 minute interview where he talks about where he first started watching these movies and also gives his thoughts on the Shaw Brothers and explains why the Master Killer in his rap group took that name.
The trailers are the best special feature. The trailer for 'Shaolin Mantis' is very unique. Instead of showing clips from the movie, the actors introduce what kind of kung fu styles are going to be used (be sure to look for Lily Li!). Lau Kar Leung is the director of 'Shaolin Mantis' and doesn't even have a role in the movie, but he gets to show off his ultra awesome kung fu skills quite a bit in the trailer. I think I have watched this trailer about 50 times, and I will eventually master that Shadow style!
Also included are ORIGINAL trailers for 'The 36th Chamber', 'Return to the 36th Chamber', 'Disciples of the 36th Chamber', '8 Diagram Pole Fighter', 'My Young Auntie', 'One Armed Swordsman', 'Infernal Affairs 3' and the original Master Killer US TV commercial.
The last special feature is a gallery of original movie posters and movie stills."
The "Gone with the Wind" of the Martial Arts Movie Genre
morgoth | 10/24/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This 1970s classic is a must-have for action/martial-arts movie lovers. The story centers around a young scholar (Gordon Liu) who enlists as an underground rebel seeking to overthrow the Manchu rulers that have taken over China. The evil local Manchu warlord, played by Lo Lieh (the Shaw Brothers' favorite villain!), discovers the plot and slaughters Liu's family. Liu flees to the Shaolin Temple, where he becomes a monk, adopts the name "San Te", and learns the secrets of Shaolin kung-fu (because the dubbing is weak, the character's pre-Shaolin name is difficult to make out). This is when the movie shines! The training sequences, though dramatized at times, are the most amazing ever caught on film and highlight the excruciating pain the monks endure. Seven years later, San Te leaves the Temple and returns to his old village to take revenge on the Manchus. Unlike many HK martial arts films, this one does not have "wire-fu" and ridiculous side antics and comedy that distract from the plot. The fighting sequences are fast, hard, and clean- pure old school heaven! The story and dialogue are simple; the dubbing could use improvement, but one should understand most of the words. Pay close attention to the skills San Te learns at Shaolin, and then seeing them applied when San Te battles the Manchus! When you se this, you really appreciate the attention to detail that the makers of the film put forth. Overall, a gem of a movie. They don't make them like this anymore!!"
OLD SCHOOL COOL ! ! ! TOTALLY TUBULAR ! ! !
M. Farineau | 03/14/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Dude, I was so stoked when I saw this was available on DVD! I remember staying up late in the mid-eighties to catch this flick on Kung-Fu Theater. The original title was "Master Killer". Why they decided to add "Shaolin" to the DVD release title is beyond me. I wasn't even sure it was the same movie when I ordered it, but when I saw the opening credits I knew I had struck gold! It was a stand out then and still is today. All of the fighting sequences are awesome, and the training sequences will probably never be matched. The acting, directing, cinematography, and fight choreography are all first rate. This Kung-Fu movie has it all! I don't understand why Gordon Liu is not widely recognized as one of the greats. His speed and skill are as impressive as anyone around today. I'm really looking forward to more of his movies being released on DVD. Don't expect high-flying Hong Kong action; this is strictly old school Shaolin ass-kicking action. The down side: I would have given this DVD 5 stars except for one thing: Damage to the original print used to make this DVD is pretty bad in some places; with dirt and "hair" on the frames, and some of the night scenes a little too dark because of the age of the print. It does not interfere with the action sequences, and was only really distracting two times throughout the entire film. The owner of the distribution rights to this movie needs do it justice and have it digitally remastered frame by frame. A classic like this should be cleaned up and released as beautiful as the day it graced the screen. The sound for the dailogue is a little too soft in a few places, but overall it's okey and the musical score is very good. The punching and kicking sounds don't suffer one bit. The "bonus feature" interview with an actual 34th generation Shaolin monk was boring and totally worthless- skip streight to the movie. I HIGHLY recomend this DVD for any Kung Fu movie lover. You won't be disappointed. With a running time of an hour and 55 minutes this Kung-Fu masterpiece is worth every penny."
Gordon Liu: "Shaolin Master Killer"
kurlebj | Hackettstown, New Jersey United States | 03/31/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is a great old school kung-fu flick. It's a little slow at the beginning (hence my 4 stars instead of 5) but by the halfway point you just can't take your eyes off the tv. Excellent training sequences, some of the best I've ever seen anywhere. And by the end of the movie, Gordon Liu is a solid fighter. His kung-fu is excellent and there is some good history in the shaolin training methods. There could have been a little more in the fight scene department, but definetly a classic for the training scenes alone. The fight scenes are great, it's just that they are a little short. Gordon Liu has become one of my favorite martial artists and if you really want to see him shine, pick up: "Fists of the White Lotus" and "Shaolin Challenges Ninja" 5 stars each and 2 of the best kung-fu movies ever. This one is a must have too for any real kung-fu fan."
Craig Featherstone | Queens | 07/23/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Considered one of the finest martial arts films ever made, Shaolin Master Killer stars popular old school kung fu badass Chia Hui (Gordon) Liu as San Te, a young man who becomes involved in the struggle against the malevolent Manchus, seditious anti-Ching patriots. Steered by Ho Kuang-han, the Manchus have surreptitiously set up a headquarters in Canton. When his family is murdered for being linked with rebels, San Tse narrowly escapes and eventually makes his way to the Shaolin monastery. Here he requests to stay and learn the fighting techniques of the Shaolin, and after brief discussion among the elders, he is allowed to remain.
The better part of the film is dedicated to the painstaking and exhaustive training San Te undergoes. San Te hones his skills over several years, and the tasks he must complete are within an arduous, and sometimes torturous, series of thirty-five distinct chambers (or phases) of instruction - ordeals intended to develop strength and agility. San Te?s initial failures are amusing (such as attempting in vain to balance on bound wooden logs in the water while also trying to eat lunch from a bowl), but when he finally begins to grasp the Shaolin techniques, he progresses past the other pupils and becomes the greatest student the temple has ever seen. Though there are only thirty-five chambers, Liu's character argues for the creation of a new one. This "36th chamber" in the temple would teach Shaolin kung fu to the general population so that they might effectively fight the Manchus. This idea doesn?t go over at all, and San Te is sent back into the world as a beggar monk. However, San Te has already learned what he needs in order to whip some severe amounts of Manchu ass.
Shaolin Master Killer is the epitome of the classic post-Bruce Lee kung fu flick. While background story concerns revenge, the true focus of the film is San Te?s training at the Shaolin temple. These sequences were under the direction of Lau Kar Leung (who also directed Jackie Chan in Drunken Master 2), and their scope and perfection take martial arts filmmaking to new heights. The training scenes not only serve the purpose of furthering the story, but also allow the viewer to learn about and care for the protagonist before the climactic showdown. There aren't as many fights as one might expect from a Shaw Brothers film, but this does not detract from the overall story in the least. As a matter of fact, the occasionally languorous pace helps to enhance the mood of the film as a whole.
Gordon Liu was a mainstay for more than a decade at legendary Shaw Brothers studio in Hong Kong. His first major role was in director Chang Cheh's Shaolin Martial Arts. The success of Shaolin Master Killer (the original title was 36th Chamber of Shaolin) propelled him to stardom. Liu can be seen in the high-profile role of Pai Mei in Kill Bill: Vol. 2, and in Kill Bill: Vol. 1 as the gangster Johnny Mo - dual roles in the same film showing the esteem Quentin Tarantino holds for this veteran actor.
Shaolin Master Killer is dubbed in that oft-maligned and mocked kung fu movie manner (the lips don?t match the mouth), but most of the translation seems to be precise. The choreography is superlative and demonstrates why Liu is inarguably one of cinema?s greatest martial arts stars. Better than Bruce Lee? Well, that?s a fan-boy debate for another time and place. Shaolin Master Killer is definitely not-to-be-missed by kung fu, cult film, and action flick aficionados for any reason. "