The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (Shao Lin san shi liu fang) (1972)

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Released 14-Aug-2007

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Martial Arts Audio Commentary-The RZA of Wu-Tang Clan and film critic Andy Klein
Featurette-Shaolin: A Hero Birthplace
Music Video-Concert Video for Wu-Tang Clan's "Gravel Pit"
Interviews-Cast-Star Gordon Liu
More…-Interviews with RZA & film scholars David Chute & Andy Klein
Gallery-Stills Gallery
Trailer-Trailer Gallery
More…-Commentator Biographies
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1972
Running Time 111:19 (Case: 116)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Lui Chia-liang
Shaw Bros
Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Gordon Liu Cha-hui
Lo Lieh
Liu Chia-yung
Hsu Shao-chang
Frankie Wei Hung
John Cheung
Wilson Tong
Yu Yang
Case Amaray-Opaque
RPI $29.95 Music Chen Yung-yu

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Cantonese Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Mandarin Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (aka Shaolin Master Killer) from the Shaw Brothers studio and director Lau Kar-Leung is a genuine classic of Hong Kong cinema, the quintessential film that defined Shaolin physical and mental training techniques and had a major influence upon both Eastern and Western martial arts films ever since. Sometimes "classic" films can be overhyped and overrated. Not so The 36th Chamber of Shaolin; it remains entertaining and inspiring almost 40 years after its cinema release.

     When his teacher and his family are killed by soldiers commanded by General Tien (Lo Lieh) for plotting against the tyrannical Ching dynasty, San Te (Lui Cha-hui) escapes and flees to the Shaolin Temple, famous for its martial arts training. Arriving wounded and almost unconscious he is taken in by the monks. San Te believes that if he can to learn the Shaolin kung fu he can teach it to his people for use in their struggle against the Ching oppressors but the Shaolin monks are neutral, not wanting to become involved in worldly matters. Nevertheless over the years San Te works his way through the 35 chambers of Shaolin; chambers to strengthen balance, the arms, wrists, the legs and the head as well as training in diverse weapons such as swords and poles. And even though the Shaolin technique is as much about training the mind as the body, San Te remains committed to teaching kung fu to the common people. When he completes the 35 chambers he returns to his home village to find the tyranny of General Tien as brutal as ever. With his new abilities San Te must first defeat General Tien's Commanders Tang (Wilson Tong) and Cheng (John Cheung) before a final showdown with Tien himself. Only then, if successful, will Te be able to initiate the 36th chamber of Shaolin, a chamber dedicated to training laymen the superior kung fu fighting skills of the Shaolin Temple.

     The 36th Chamber of Shaolin is a genuine Hong Kong cinema classic. Many films have a plot where a student goes through a training regime in order to obtain the skills to defeat a superior opponent; The 36th Chamber of Shaolin for half its running time, in contrast, is an extended series of training routines that develop the hero's skills, both physically and spiritually. All are different and some have genuinely funny moments that give the film its light touch. It is also the important spiritual element to San Te's training that sets the film apart from others. In the final third, the fights may feel a bit stiffly choreographed by more modern standards but this is because they are real, with long continuous takes of up to 20 kung fu movements that are genuinely exciting. And Gordon Liu Cha-hui is simply a superb martial artist; athletic, agile and quick. Charismatic on screen, he not only looks the part, he is the part.

     The 36th Chamber of Shaolin from Director Lau Kar-Leung and the Shaw Brothers is a film that has had a major influence upon both Eastern and Western films far beyond the martial arts. Besides the obvious films, look no further for its influence than the physical and spiritual training sequence in The Empire Strikes Back! Sometimes "classic" films can be overhyped and overrated. Not so The 36th Chamber of Shaolin; it remains vastly entertaining and inspiring almost 40 years after its cinema release.

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Transfer Quality


    The 36th Chamber of Shaolin is presented in 2.35:1, its original theatrical ratio, and is 16x9 enhanced. It is a wonderful print, right from the opening title sequence when every drop of water is clearly distinguishable. This high clarity remains throughout most of the film; colours are generally vibrant, skin tones wonderful, blacks solid and shadow detail exceptional. It is not perfect however; in some of the outdoor sequences the colours are flatter, there is occasional grain and some colour bleed, especially with the reds. However, artefacts are not seen and this is probably as good as the film has looked in 35 years.

English subtitles are in an easy to read white font and seem to follow the dialogue. The spelling is American English and there are some minor errors such as "He's been promoted times in years" (74:54) but they are not frequent or distracting.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    Audio tracks available include Cantonese, Mandarin and English Dolby Digital mono with some sounds in the surround speakers. I understand neither Chinese language but could detect no major differences, other than the dialect. This is a good track that does what is required. Dialogue is clear and the separate sounds for weapons, gongs and bells distinguishable. Lip synchronisation, as was usual in Hong Kong films of this vintage, is very approximate. The music by Chen Yung-yu is appropriate to the film. The English dub is not recommended.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Feature Commentary by RZA of Wu-Tang Clan and film critic Andy Klein

Recorded together, Andy Klein and The RZA have a good rapport and share a chatty non-stop commentary. They are not the best on providing information about the film itself but instead discuss various actors, display knowledge of Chinese weapons and martial arts styles and share their memories of various kung fu films. It is reasonably entertaining; not the best nor the worst commentary around.

Shaolin: A Hero Birthplace (16:41 minutes).

Quite a hybrid, this featurette is a combination of a history of Shaolin, a summary of the career of director Lau Kar-Leung (with early black & white photographs) and a making of The 36th Chamber of Shaolin with an extended interview with leading man Gordon Liu Cha-hui. He speaks in Chinese about how his character is based on a real person, although the actual story may be fictional, and how they wanted to make the kung fu as convincing and accurate as possible, using long takes of up to 20 movements. This is a well put together, interesting feature.

Interview Gallery.

     Interview with star Gordon Liu (16:19 minutes).

    This interview with Gordon Liu covers different ground from the previous feature so nothing is repeated. In this interview Liu speaks about his background, his learning of kung fu, working with directors Lau Kar-Leung and Chang Cheh, his martial arts philosophy and his film career. He is a pleasant and engaging speaker with a number of interesting things to say.

     Interview with film scholars David Chute & Andy Klein (7:36 minutes).

    Filmed separately, critics David Chute & Andy Klein speak about director Lau Kar-Leung, the culture of martial arts, star Gordon Liu and the huge influence of The 36th Chamber of Shaolin on all subsequent martial arts films.

     Interview with The RZA of Wu-Tang Clan (9:49 minutes).

    The RZA recalls his boyhood watching kung fu films and the resonance these films, with their themes of escapism and the triumph of the underdog, had for the blacks he grew up with. He also speaks specifically about his memories of The 36th Chamber of Shaolin.

Concert Video for Wu-Tang Clan's "Gravel Pit" (2:02 minutes).

Stills Gallery.

    Consists of 30 stills, a combination of promotional posters and film stills.

Trailer Gallery.

    The Original Theatrical Trailer (3:45) and New Home Video Trailer (1:06) for The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. The original trailer has scratches and flat colour that shows how much better the restored print looks!

    Shaw Brothers Films Currently Available: One Armed Swordsman (poor condition; constant scratches and artefacts - 2.35:1, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, 3:53 min.), My Young Auntie (not in great condition - 2.35:1, Dolby Digital 2.0, 4:11 min.), The Shaw Bros. Collection: A montage totalling 1.30 minutes of available Dragon Dynasty releases; included are One Armed Swordsman, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, King Boxer & My Young Auntie. Good condition.

Commentator Biographies.

One silent text page each for Andy Klein and Elvis Mitchell.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    There have been various releases of The 36th Chamber of Shaolin in Region 1, 2 and 3, many now out of print. A Region 3 release looks to have reasonable video, Mandarin and Cantonese 5.1 (although the audio is not highly regarded), the same featurette Shaolin: A Hero Birthplace, various trailers and filmographies. The Region 4 release is identical to the R1 Dragon Dynasty release (except for PAL speedup) and seems to be the best available. With the high quality of this release there is really no reason to go elsewhere.


    The 36th Chamber of Shaolin from Director Lau Kar-Leung is a genuine classic of Hong Kong cinema, the quintessential film that defined Shaolin physical and mental training techniques. It has had a major influence upon both Eastern and Western martial arts films ever since. Sometimes "classic" films can be overhyped and overrated. Not so The 36th Chamber of Shaolin which remains entertaining and inspiring almost 40 years after its cinema release. Now, with this impressive release incorporating excellent video, good audio and a nice collection of genuine extra features, there is no excuse for any kung fu fan to be without it. Highly recommended.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Friday, January 15, 2010
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S350, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 42inch Hi-Def LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

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