Return to the 36th Chamber (1980)

Posted in Reviews by - April 11, 2016
Return to the 36th Chamber (1980)

A sort of proxy sequel to The 36th Chamber of Shaolin featuring much of the same cast and crew and directly referencing the original, although in a much more playful manner. The premise centres on the rights of workers, depicting a group of Han Chinese at a Canton fabrics factory who are docked pay by their new Manchurian owners. The staff strike but are bullied into accepting the cut, before taking matters into their own hands. Their opportunistic friend Chieh (Gordon Liu) dresses up as the enlightened monk San Te (who Liu played in the first film) in order to teach the management a lesson in humility. Big boss and kung fu expert Wang (Wang Lung-wei) spots the ruse immediately and the game’s up, throwing Chieh into a crisis of confidence. The film now shifts focus and centres on Chieh’s retribution, as he becomes determined to train at the real Shaolin temple and help his buddies at the factory. We essentially get a spoofed repeat of the original film’s punishing training sequences – headbutting sandbags, carrying water buckets and so on – with Chieh’s levity acting as a constant aggravation to his fellow monks and the real San Te (Ching Chu), who takes a personal interest in Chieh’s development. He learns ‘rooftop kung fu’ almost via osmosis after spending a year creating bamboo scaffolds away from the main chambers of Shaolin, only to discover by the end of the film that San Te has been teaching him all along. The way Lau Kar-leung embeds Chieh’s pole-fighting knowledge into the blistering final confrontation is a true spectacle to behold. The film’s lighter comedic touches (which include Hsiao Ho’s protruding false teeth and a lot of water-based slapstick) show Lau in a jovial mood, although there is a clear political message at the heart of the film regarding corporate corruption and the exploitation of labour.

AKA: The Return of Master Killer

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Editor and creator of Kung Fu Movie Guide and the host of the Kung Fu Movie Guide Podcast. I live behind a laptop in London, UK.

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