Disciples of the 36th Chamber (1985)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2008-05-18
Summary: All action
In the prolog to “Disciples of the 36th Chamber” Hsiao Ho fights with and defeats Lee Hoi-Sang, is defeated by a female martial artist who has a silver-shod kicking foot and then is attacked by yet another guy who says he is out to avenge his son-in-law, Tiger Lie. This takes about five minutes and has as much exposition, character development and plot as the entire movie that it serves to introduce. We only know that there is a connection between the lead-in the movie proper when Chan Shen, as the oafish Manchu schools inspector, mentions that Fong Shiyu (Hsiao) was the person who killed Tiger Lie.

To say the plot of “Disciples of the 36th Chamber” is streamlined is to understate the case badly. Fong Shiyu gets in trouble with the Manchu overlords, his mother takes him and his brothers to Shaolin Temple to hide out, he gets in trouble with Brother San Te (Gordon Liu) at Shaolin, is tricked by the wily Manchu governor, helps his Shaolin comrades—outnumbered about 500 to 1—defeat a group of martial arts champions and soldiers. Fifteen minutes of its 90 minute running time may be something other than action scenes but probably less. In the last two-thirds of the movie we are never more than a few seconds from the next fight, training sequence, wall climb or roof jump.

Fong Shiyu comes across as an unlettered (literally) punk with a bad attitude who can beat up anyone. Hsiao Ho has a number of comic bits—none of them are funny and they become more “unfunny” as the movie unspools. Gordon Liu plays Gordon Liu. He has the only bit of actual acting that I could see on one viewing. It happens when Fong Shiyu leaves the temple in a “you can’t fire me I quit” scene. As he leaves there is a quick close-up of Liu who shows several conflicting emotions in fast succession with only some movements of his eyes. Lily Li-Li does a bit of emoting when faced a decision of either sending her son to be executed by the Manchus or betraying the Han people but it is standard stuff.

The costumes are lush, the art direction flamboyant and the sets are the same steeply pitched walls and pool full of chained logs that are familiar to viewers of the other Shaw Brothers Shaolin Temple films of the same vintage. There is acrobatic action, excellent wire work, good hand to hand combat and skilled use of weapons but absolutely nothing to distinguish it from scores of other late 1970s early 198s extravaganzas.
Reviewer Score: 5