Viking Night - Shawtober September Part III: The 36th Chamber of Shaolin

By Bruce Hall

September 20, 2017

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It occurs to me now that I should have just gone with “Shaolin September” to describe this month’s celebration of some of my favorite kung fu classics.

But like my onscreen heroes I am a man of focus, so I hereby decree this Week Three of Shawtowber September. And it is the week I have decided to revisit another all-time classic in The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. Legendary producer Run Run Shaw brings to screen the story of Chinese martial arts legend San Te, whose life gets the Braveheart treatment here. This means the soul of a real-life complicated man has been polished till it shines, and upon close inspection you’ll find that his feats, while mighty indeed, have been very pragmatically exaggerated.

Still, “based on a true story” would be splashed across the advertising. And if you were a bored pre-teen surfing channels back in the day, you would have been impressed by this. Plus, there were apparently 36 Freaking Chambers of Shaolin, which surely meant at least 36 fights (everyone knows if you SAY it you have to SHOW it). So needless to say, my head nearly exploded from the film in my head long before I’d seen the real thing. When I finally did, I found the story to be a rousing tale of goodness versus evil. And despite being forced by time constraints to gloss over most of those 36 Chambers, it thrills me now just as it did then.

Hell, this is the movie that inspired me to earn my black belt.


Okay, let me back up a bit. This is the film that inspired me to WANT to earn my black belt. That changed when I found out that kung fu is actually hard and cannot in fact, be learned in 90 minutes. I do love the movies though, 36th Chamber (can we agree to call it that going forward?) is one of the Shaw Brothers’ most storied achievements. Directed by fight choreographer and long time Shaw collaborator Liu Chia-Liang, 36th Chamber is one of the most influential examples of the genre. This and Quentin Tarantino’s ADHD are what you have to thank for the Kill Bill franchise.

You don’t need to read this review to figure out that I love this movie. You need to read it because it’s going to be so much fun to tell you why.

Reason number one is that the film opens with a training montage specifically designed to beat the shit out of other training montages. San Te vigorously trains in several Shaolin fighting techniques against a variety of backgrounds, and it’s one of the most badass things ever put to film. I use a crude word like “badass” instead of, say, “extraordinary” because that first word is specifically designed to kick the ass of words like the other one. Because of it 36th Chamber changed my life, at least until the next thing that changed my life came along. So, a few weeks. But for those weeks, San Te was my boy.

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