So, this past weekend, I had the pleasure of staying indoors. I had my first Saturday off from work and my only plan was to live on my couch watching movies the entire day. I had a queue ready to go, snacks and my loose-leaf lemon mango tea on the table. Before I started my movies, I was searching through Netflix, just to see if there was anything worth binging before I started my project, and I happened across “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin” and its sequels.
First made in 1978, this action and adventure movie will have you wide-eyed and laughing the entire way through. The movie was released in 1979 in the USA and was directed by Lau Kar-leung. You’ve got to remember that during the early ‘60s and late ‘70s martial arts movies were big in America. “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin” had a huge ripple effect in the movie industry, especially in the martial arts and revenge genres. Quentin Tarantino and Wu-Tang Clan are perfect examples of just how big an influence “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin” was.
So, back to how I found this treasure. It was on the suggested options list for my account because Gordon Liu, the star actor and main character, was in the movie. Majority of today’s hipsters and youth might know him from “Kill Bill: Volume One” and “Kill Bill: Volume Two.” Knowing that Liu was in the movie, I just had to watch it and boy was I in for a treat.
I cannot explain how cringy and yet immensely satisfying “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin” was for me. To begin with, the movie was completely out of sync with the subtitles, dubbing and the dialogue. It’s an awesome three-in-one-combo. If you want the full campy experience, I highly recommend leaving the subtitles on.
Surprisingly, leaving the screwy subtitles on was not as distracting as I had imagined it to be. The dubbing pretty much took the lead in terms of audio and visual, in that the voice actors try to stereotypically embellish what Asian people sound like. Hey, it was the ‘70s. But the subtitles are just great to have on. Not only are they out of sync with the dubbing, but they also do not match the dubbed script, because while the voice actors are saying one thing, the subtitles would say a completely different sentence.
In addition to the non-synchronized script, the entire cast presents its audience with some bad—s martial arts. After doing some extended research, I found that much of the martial arts in the ‘60s and ‘70s was, in fact, real. The purpose of showing actual martial arts was to show authenticity and to make the movie look much cooler.
I also like to believe that the reason movies at this time produced real Kung Fu was because they didn’t have to fake the fighting. They did not have to substitute the fight scenes for special camera shots like the American action movies would have to in the ‘90s. Think about it: Most of the action movies made in the ‘90s did not have trained Kung Fu artists or firearm specialists, and to compensate, they had to provide “movie magic” in the form of special camera shots, angles and more in order to give the viewers the realism they wanted to see.
Aside from the real Kung Fu, the story line was simple and quick. Young student Liu is urged to rise against the Manchu oppression in China, but the revolution has disastrous consequences. Escaping the massacre, Liu seeks shelter in the Shaolin Temple where the monks train him in their famous martial arts skills. Movies from the ’60s through the ’90s are awesome because of their succinct plots; they have nothing too complex or too dramatic to slow down the entire rest of the movie.
As a bonus to the quick plot and real action, the movie makes the most of its runtime. “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin” and its sequels all end with two minutes remaining in their runtimes. Not 30 minutes, not 10 minutes, but two minutes. Spoiler alert: The good guy beats the bad guy. Simple. There is no cathartic ending that some viewers hope to gain from a movie watching experience. “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin,” is, put shortly, your average, action-packed movie with no complicated plot.
Lastly, Liu is the finishing touch to this movie. His facial expressions and martial arts are what I believe kept the movie entertaining. Unfortunately, while still portrayed as the main character, the second movie, “Return to the 36th Chamber,” does not have Liu as the master of the 36th chamber, but rather he is someone who does not know Kung Fu.
It wasn’t until I realized his character’s lack of martial skill in the second movie that I had kind of a dislike toward it. Luckily, you don’t need to watch the second movie to understand the third movie, but if you are anything like me and like to watch things in order, the Kung Fu in the rest of the movie makes it still worth the watch. Fortunately, balance is restored when Liu comes back in the third movie as the master of the 36th chamber.
Lastly, the fourth movie unfortunately does not have Liu in the cast, but it is still worth a watch for the ‘80s culture. Overall, I spent my entire Saturday afternoon binging the entire Shaolin series on Netflix. There are more movies to the Shaolin series (quite a lot actually), but they do not show them on Netflix.
I think watching the four movies on Netflix should satisfy your craving, though, for action and adventure. One can only handle so many campy martial art movies from the ‘70s. Additionally, as a final note, watching a movie that is supposed to take place during the Qing Dynasty, but has resort buildings and speed boats in the background is iconic.