Return to the 36th Chamber (1980)
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I'm not sure if it's supposed to be funny, but by god we were hurting by the end! Like the bit where he showing the bad guys what he's learned at the Shaolin temple, and he's working his way up from showing them a mere 50% of his new powers, to "the full 90%".... What happened to 100%?
And the bit where, in order to show his pals what he's learned, he beats them all up! He whacks his best mate in the stomach, and his mate (who has teeth that are literally about two inches long sticking out of his mouth), bends over and exclaims; "eeeeuuuuurgh, GREAT KUNG FUUUUUU". It's a classic movie moment!
If you have chance to see this film, do it. It's brilliant!
Gordon Liu once again stars, but his time he plays an actor impersonating his character from the first one. It is an interesting concept. Basically the plot is the same. The manchus are oppressing a dye factory and hire someone who looks like San Te to fool the manchus. Gordon gets his butt kicked so he goes to Shaolin to actually become a shaolin master. Once he learns kung fu he goes back and frees the dye workers.
Its not a bad film, but all the comedic parts got really annoying. I am a big Gordon Liu fan, but a consider this one of his weakest roles.
This film is a simple story of good versus evil, told in 3 acts, which more or less sums up the narrative of martial arts films in that era.
Act One sets up the premise. Workers in a dye-mill of a small village are unhappy with their lot, having their wages cut by 20% by incoming manchu gangsters. They can't do much about their exploitation because none of them are martial arts skilled to take on the gangsters, and their boss. At first they had a minor success in getting Liu to impersonate a highly skilled Shaolin monk (one of the best comedy sequences), but their rouse got exposed when they pushed the limit of credibility by impersonating one too many times.
Act Two shows the protagonist wanting to get back at the mob. However, without real martial arts, he embarks on a journey to Shaolin Temple, to try and infiltrate and learn martial arts on the sly. After some slapstick moments, he finally gets accepted by the abbot (whom he impersonated!) but is disappointed at the teaching methods - kinda like Mr Miyagi's style in Karate Kid, but instead of painting fences, he gets to erect scaffoldings all around the temple. Nothing can keep a good man down, and he unwittingly builds strength, endurance and learns kung-fu the unorthodox way.
Act Three is where the fight fest begins. With cheesy sound effects, each obvious non-contact on film is given the maximum impact treatment. But it is rather refreshing watching the fight scenes here, with its wide angled shots to highlight clarity and detail between the sparring partners, and the use of slow-motion only to showcase stunts in different angles. You may find the speed of fights a tad too slow, with some pause in between moves, but with Yuen Wo Ping and his style being used ad-nausem in Hollywood flicks, they sure don't make fight scenes like they used to! Return to the 36th chamber gets a repeat screening on Monday, so, if you're game for a nostalgic trip down memory lane, what are you waiting for?
The comedy really begins at the monastery where Chao makes several bungling attempts to get accepted. This sets up lots of really funny moments, and lots of great fight choreography. Continuing in the "36th Chamber" tradition we see all kinds of neat and interesting (and supremely hokey) training methods at the monastery as well as creative uses of wooden benches as weapons.
Also unique and of note is the blending of kung fu and the craft of bamboo scaffold building. Chao is not accepted as a student at Shaolin but is made to build bamboo scaffolding for the "10 year restoration" of the monastery. On the DVD I bought there is a special on bamboo scaffold building and the inspiration that director Lau Kar-Leung drew from it. This is a craft many hundreds (perhaps thousands) of years old, and in Hong Kong scaffolding is still built of bamboo even on large high-rises, though the West exclusively uses steel tubes and clamps. As a result of his scaffolding work, Chao develops a special style of kung fu... when asked what kind it is, he hilariously replies "scaffolding kung fu!!" which he first tests during a dust-up with the monastery's Abbot. In the final confrontation with the Manchus, there is a dazzling array of creative uses for bamboo poles and ties.
From a comedy perspective, I think it's one of the best of the kung fu genre. As a kung fu film in general, it also stands out... I recommend it to anyone!
Add Johnny Wang in the mix and you've got an awesome final showdown! Don't mess with Manchu thugs; they're ruthless!
However, even during this era of simplicity, films such as The Return To The 36th Chamber does a lot of things right that modern action flicks don't. The paramount example would be, relying on mostly good ol' fashion elbow grease instead of special effects.
The fight scenes though dated, still looks good and this is due to the players knowing theatrical wushu. A fight has to look like 2 guys are fighting to be convincing, even though we know that Scaffolding Kung Fu is ridiculous.
Not much else to say other than, it holds up to time okay with all things considered, but don't expect some mindblowing dialogue or story.
Some viewers may be put off by the way that RETURN TO THE 36TH CHAMBER is more of an out-and-out comedy than the original film but I enjoyed the change of pace and style. Everything is done a bit differently here so nothing is repetitive. Liu plays a small-time actor who gets beaten up at the hands of Manchu thugs, so he decides to break into the Shaolin Temple and spy on the monks training. It's pretty funny stuff, with Liu on top physical form and convincing both as the novice weakling and as the kung fu expert.
The Shaolin Temple scenes are fun and entertaining with all of the bizarre training we enjoy watching. I loved the way that Liu learns amid scaffolding here which gives him an addiction to bamboo which plays a big part in the fights at the film's climax, which are lighter than usual but no less gruesome. As with almost all Shaw Brothers movies, this is well shot, well paced, and looks absolutely brilliant in high definition; a great mix of comedy, drama, and action.
Director Lau Kar-leung excels in this action-comedy. When I think Shaw Brothers kung fu, I think of Chang Cheh, which may be very narrow of me (I am still learning). But Lau is every bit as great, and in some ways maybe even greater, because although much of this looks like a Shaw action film, the comedy is excellent, clearly drawing on old-school American slapstick.
The story began in a not unfamiliar fashion, where a group of laborers are exploited by their employer who hires some Manchus to essentially frighten them into working harder for less money. They try to fight back and to go on strike but are badly beaten by the Manchus. The workers then get there friend Chao Jen-Cheh (Gordon Lu), an actor, to pretend to be a dangerous Shaolin priest so he can intimidate the Manchus and the boss into treating them fairly but he is eventually found out as a fraud and he too is beaten terribly. After this, Chao vows to go to Shaolin and learn Kung Fu for real and to return to set things straight. For the next while the movie takes a comedic turn as Chao tries many tricks to emerge himself in Shaolin's 36th Chamber (a Kung Fu training zone) and the Abbot takes pity on him, allowing him to stay at Shaolin to put together Scaffolding and fix the temple roofs. Chao does this happily as it allows him to observe the 36th Chamber and he presumes he will be taken on as a student when the roof has been mended. However, 3 years later when the work is complete, he is distraught to find that he is asked to leave the temple without have received any Kung Fu training. He goes back to the village and explains to his worker friends that he has learned nothing. They are angry at him for having learned nothing the entire time he was away and attack him, only to find that Chao has in fact picked up quite a bit simply from having observed the Shaolin students and having incorporated what he has seen into his scaffolding work. Having discovered him strength, Chao challenges the Manchu and the boss who he is now able to defeat with considerable style.
The oblivious "training" sequences in this film are great and again they justify the use of the label "36th Chamber" as the original movie is well known for it fantastic training act. All great Kung Fu movies have an amazing training act and this one is no exception.
Another thing which I loved about this movie was the unique "scaffolding Kung Fu" style which Chao learns. His time as a scaffolder means that his fighting style is one which largely consists of tying his opponents up. This is unique, amusing, entertaining, impressive and also it brought the whole story together. This is because the laborers at the start are using "colour sticks" to mix sheets of cloth into dye. When the Manchus are introduces, they bare their bamboo batons and declare facetiously "these are our colour sticks". These in the final fight scenes are reminiscent of the bamboo poles that Chao uses in scaffolding the temple and as he takes the Manchus on, he ties each of them and the batons together like scaffolding. It's brilliant the way this all ties together...
The criticisms I have are only twofold and very, very minor. Firstly I found it hard to believe when Chao returns to the village completely unaware that his skills have improved...then again this is a Kung Fu movie and anything can happen. Secondly, one of the lead characters, a worker who provides some early comic relief, has enormous false teeth. This was supposed to be funny but is actually a big and unwelcome distraction.
Anyway so Gordon Liu is back, but this time around he is playing a new character. I really loved him as San Te on the first one, it was a serious and dark Kung Fu gem. This one he plays Jen Cheh and its one of those comedy/kung-fu mixtures. I must admit I was extremely disappointed that it wasn't a real sequel to the first. I wish it had been under another name completely and still used the 36th chambers, its not like anyone could replace Gordon for the part, it just needed a different title. I hate when sequels get off from the first movie and do something like this.... NOT TO SAY THIS IS A BAD MOVIE AT ALL...
Far from bad, this is a great film, unfortunately I have a horrible full screen version so I couldn't appreciate all Master Liu's direction had to offer, I know it was good for what I could tell and even in full screen it captured a lot of the beauty of the fights, especially in early scenes where Jen was pretending to be a monk.
Gordon put on a lot of weight in the few years in between these movies and looked less like a kung-fu champ and more like a regular guy, which was good for his characters humble beginnings but not so good for where his character would've ended up with all that work and pseudo training.
The movie has a small town's biggest economical leader (a dye shop) taken over by ruthless bosses in order to get a better assembly. They cut the pay and refuse to let workers leave, so when a beggar posing as a monk comes to town they use him to fool the bosses and scare them with his fake fighting style. Ultimately the bosses find out this monk is a liar and they beat him up. He then goes to Shaolin Temple, and unlike San Te in the first film, Cha Jen Cheh doesn't get in to train with the others, he is instead told to work and build scaffolding and repair all the roofs of all the chambers.
He sets off working, and even sleeping on the roof and spends all of his time watching the other pupils train. He mocks and imitates their moves and becomes an almost acrobatic master on his scaffolding. Once he finishes the job over a year later he asks to join now that hes done the work and the monk still refuses. He goes back home to sadly tell everyone he didn't get to train and they wonder what he's been doing for over a year while he was away. He soon realizes that he is a master of kung fu simply by watching and the imitation practices he had been doing and he takes on the evil boss played by Johnny Wang in one of the best fights ever filmed.
You can never go wrong with the Shaw Bros. I've said it a million times.. here brothers Gordon and Chi-Liang once again made a damn good movie...
It a great film and if you love martial arts you will wanna check it out, its not a true sequel, but stands alone perfectly. My flaws was that it was super slow building up to the action, it had way too much of a comedy aspect and I gave it 6 out of 10 stars.