Master Killer

masterkiller.gif masterkiller2.gif

"36th Chamber of Shaolin has the distinction of being one of the most, if not THE most training-intensive martial arts films of all time. Mind you, not ALL of the temple's 35 chambers get their own sequence; that would make for an intolerably long movie."

- Numskull

Master Killer (1978)

AKA: 36th Chamber of Shaolin; Shaolin Master Killer

Literally: Shaolin 36 Chamber

Director: Liu Chia-Liang (Lau Ka-Leung)

Producer: Run Run Shaw, Mona Fong Yat-Wah

Writer: Ni Kuang (Ngai Hong)

Action Director: Liu Chia-Liang (Lau Ka-Leung)

Cast: Gordon Liu (Lau Ka-Fai), Wong Yue, Lo Lieh, Wilson Tong, Li Hoi San, Liu Chia-Yung (Lau Ka-Yung)

Running Time: 115 min.

Plot: Gordon Liu stars as San Te, a young man who joins the Shaolin Temple when the Manchus kill his family. There he learns to become a master of Shaolin Kung Fu and avenges his family.

Availability: This title is available at


NUMSKULL'S REVIEW: Welcome to the Museum of Overrated Motion Pictures, everyone! My name is Numskull...well, that's not my REAL name, of course, but, you know...and I'll be your tour guide. If you'll be kind enough to deposit some of your hard-earned money in the donation box so the security guard can steal it after visiting hours, we can begin.

Here's our first exhibit: 36th Chamber of Shaolin, starring Gordon Liu, also known as Lau Ka Fai, and directed and choreographed by Liu Chia-Liang, whom many of you may know better as Lau Kar Leung, the man who directed most of Drunken Master 2 but got fired by Jackie Chan because he...meaning Liu...wanted the martial arts element to be more accurate than was customary for that film's illustrious star.

Is there a question back there? The restrooms? They're over there. Down the hall, on the left. You're welcome.

This film is one of many from the period...1978, to be exact...that has multiple titles. It also goes by the names of "Master Killer" and "Shaolin Master Killer." We believe that "36th Chamber of Shaolin" is the most appropriate title, however, since there comes a point when the lead character, San Te, proposes the institution of a 36th training chamber in the Shaolin Temple for the benefit of the general Chinese public. But I digress. To start things off...

I'm sorry? What's that? Oh. That way. Down the hall, on the left. You're welcome.

To start things off, there's a secret revolution of sorts against the tyranny of the Manchus, and our hero enlists after watching his family and friends get brutally slaughtered. Not the most imaginative impetus, perhaps, but it serves, and many similarly-themed martial arts films followed. San Te manages to con his way into a sort of unofficial Shaolin scholarship, and...excuse me, young man, but we don't permit museum patrons to touch the exhibits, especially patrons who have just finished jacking off to the Naked Killer display. Those ropes are there for a reason, you know.

San Te, for some reason, fails to mention his motivations to the temple elders until a whole year is passed, at which point he...

Yes? Oh. Down the hall, on the left. You're welcome.

At which point he begins a series of grueling training sequences which, in many other kung fu films, would be replaced by fight scenes. 36th Chamber of Shaolin has the distinction of being one of the most, if not THE most training-intensive martial arts films of all time. Mind you, not ALL of the temple's 35 chambers get their own sequence; that would make for an intolerably long movie.

Speaking of "long", it seems that some of our guests are really taking their time in the restrooms. Can I have a volunteer to go and make sure everything is all right? Woah! I only need ONE volunteer! You there, why don't you go? That's correct, down the hall, on the left. Hurry back.

Where was I? Oh yes, the training chambers. Well, eventually, San Te completes the gamut, and the elders offer him the chance to become the overseer of any one chamber of his choice. Instead, he suggests a 36th chamber be opened so that people other than monks can learn Shaolin self-defense techniques. This proposal outrages the elders, who cast San Te out. From there, the film's previously laborious pace accelerates drastically.

Huh? Oh, for...down the hall, on the left. Where all the others have gone.

So, San Te goes and starts fighting the Manchus, which is something the film has built up to for about an hour and a half. When all is said and done...

WHAT?!? Are you deaf?!? Down the fuckin' hall, on the fuckin' left. Yeah, you too, asshole.

After all I've done for this place, here's where I end up; alone in front of a kung fu movie that's almost all training sequences, behind glass, roped off, on a fuckin' pedestal it doesn't deserve, talking to myself. A tour guide without a tour group. A fine thing! Hey Mike, tell the boss I quit. I'm heading someplace where my skills will be appreciated!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Welcome to the Museum of Overrated Rock and Roll albums, everyone! My name is Numskull...well, that's not my REAL name, of course, but, you know...and I'll be your tour guide. If you'll be kind enough to deposit some of your hard-earned money in the donation box so I won't have to eat my shoes tomorrow, we can begin.

Here's our first exhibit: The Dark Side of the Moon, by Pink Floyd. This 1973 release stayed on the Billboard charts for...

Pardon me? Oh. Down the hall, on the left. You're welcome.


PERKELE'S REVIEW: Everybody's regarding this as one of the greatest kung fu films of all time, so obviously I'm missing something. Maybe it was the print that I saw, the most widely available (at least around here) truncated version [a few chambers missing] with fullscreen picture. But at least in this way, "36th Chamber" is nothing spectacular. It's been hyped so effortlessly by almost everyone that my expectations were higher than my freaked-up hippie neighbor after the season's greenhouse harvest. I'm a devoted old school lover and this 1978 Shaw Brothers pic from Liu Chia-Liang should've been the seventh heaven for me, goddamnit! "36th Chamber" is just another dated chopsocky with a monk practicing martial arts at the Shaolin temple and then avenging to the bad people [though this is THE often copied original]. The training sequences [chambers] are delightful and imaginative but the actual kung fu is pretty slow, not an example of crisp choreography it should've been. Now don't get me wrong, "36th Chamber" is an enjoyable and entertaining effort, but just not worth the hype. Gordon Liu gives a compelling enough performance as monk San Te and there are also other occasional flashes of brilliance every now and then. It's mostly the same thing here that with the another SB classic from the 70's, "Five Fingers of Death", both good films but overrated by people who have seen them in theaters back then [and so started their kung fu boom with these movies].



The Good: This film has a decent amount of reality. I like that in a kung-fu flick. Unlike most "I don't know kung-fu, but when I do, I'll avenge your death" movies (where the student learns kung-fu within minutes of lifting a few pots and taking a few hits), this movie takes the long route: Two-thirds of the movie is training, training and more training. But don't let the whole "training" portion scare you away because these scenes are 100% pure enjoyment. I've never been a fan of Gordon "I always look mad" Liu , but I have to admit, in this movie he shines.

The Bad: I'll have to admit, the first 20 minutes or so dragged. It made me uninterested and bored. But once Gordon Liu escapes to the Shaolin school, the film becomes high entertainment.

Bottom Line: This movie makes you want to become a Shaolin monk.


S!DM'S REVIEW: One of the all-time great kung-fu movies, this one ranks up there with Enter the Dragon and Drunken Master 2. It's almost perfect, has impeccable pacing, and great fighting also (what would you expect from a Shaw Brothers film?). Lau Kar Leung (Liu Chia~Liang) directs this movie masterfully (Filmed in "Shaw Scope"! the film proclaims at the beginning) and makes good use of the colorful surroundings and interesting characters, the central of which is San Te, played by Gordon Liu. San Te is a young fellow who witnesses the killing of a Ming dynasty "rebel" at the hands of the evil Manchus. Being the young guy that he is, he goes and asks his teacher why there is no democracy and inadvertently joins his teacher and a choice few students in rebelling against the government. When the Manchus find out, they kill San Te's family. San Te, wanting revenge, joins the Shaolin temple and stays for 7 years to learn kung fu from the temple's existing 35 chambers. Some training sequences are hilarious, some serious, but all are classic. My favorite chamber was the one in which the junior monks have to pound their heads on sand bags without getting dizzy...It's very amusing. Well, after his servitude is up, he heads out of the temple and beats up his aggressors...every single one of them. After his anger is diminished, San Te heads back to the temple a hero, and founds his own chamber, the "36th Chamber of Shaolin." This chamber is built to train anyone who wants to learn the formerly secretive art of Shaolin kung fu. The only gripe I had was that the beginning of the film was unnecessarily long, but if you stick around, you will be treated to some of the finest kung fu ever filmed.

S!DM'S RATING: 10/10