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霹靂十傑 (1985)
Disciples of the 36th Chamber

Reviewed by: mrblue
Date: 12/05/2010

Regarded by some as the last "true" old-school kung fu movie, Lau Kar-Leung's 1985 Shaw Brothers release Disciples of the 36th Chamber does indeed mark a passing of the torch when it comes to populist Hong Kong action cinema. Upon its' premiere, the film only stayed in theatres for a week, showing that local audiences were growing tired of the traditional Shaw Brothers style.

This paved the way for the more modern stylings of Jackie Chan's Police Story, which was a huge hit release later that same year that marked the new direction Hong Kong action directors in the mid-1980's -- especially those who were heavily influenced by films from the west -- were going.

It is kind of a shame, then, that Lau's final official entry in the 36th Chamber trilogy comes off as cookie-cutter. There's little of the inventiveness and vitality that figured so heavily in the previous films. Instead, here, we're given a standard kung fu revenge plot tinged with comedy featuring folk hero Fong Sai-Yuk (Hsiao Ho) teaming up with the Shaolin monks (led by San Te, played by the venerable Gordon Liu) to take on those damn dirty Chings.

Reviewer Score: 6

Reviewed by: ewaffle
Date: 05/18/2008
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

Reviewed by: cal42
Date: 07/09/2007
Summary: Hard to like, impossible to dismiss

It’s hard to believe, but this film was made in the same year as Jackie Chan’s POLICE STORY and is a good indicator of just how out of touch the Shaw Brothers studio had become. It flopped so badly that even some fans of the first film are totally unaware that it even exists.

The second sequel to THE 36th CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN is actually more of a true sequel than RETURN TO THE 36th CHAMBER, in that Lau Kar-Fai reprises his role as (the real) San Te. However, he plays second lead (and second fiddle) to Fong Sai-Yuk (Hsiao Ho), who, along with his two brothers (I didn’t even realise Fong Sai-Yuk HAD brothers, but never mind), journey to the Shaolin Temple in their own quest to put one over one the Manchu government.

The story is predictable and the script is uninspired. But what’s worse is the ‘humour’ that crept into the first sequel is even more in evidence here – and it’s at least ten times as unfunny. Lau Kar-Leung apparently wrote this himself, and it’s well known that he was having a bad time around this period, which might have contributed to the lacklustre script.

There’s a vague outline of the three-act structure from the other two films, but it’s all very tenuous. As far as I know, Fong Sai-Yuk didn’t exist in the same timeline as San Te, but I could be wrong and I’m prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. His addition to the series is probably an attempt at adding someone familiar to the formula as Lau Kar-Fai had already gone through the training twice before as two different people! In any case, the training is definitely less inspired this time round. This is perhaps not too surprising, as the market had already become saturated with 36th Chamber wannabes. Plus, of course, Fong Sai-Yuk doesn’t need much training, does he?

For all that, though, there’s no denying that the action scenes are pretty damn impressive. For reasons I’ve never been able to fathom, Hsiao Ho only had leading roles in a couple of movies (although he’s visible in many, many others). His acrobatic skill is superb, and his presence saves this from total catastrophe. Right from the opening, we are treated to a blistering display of ability. While I’m on the subject of the opening titles, is it me or does the title sequence have absolutely NOTHING to do with the film itself? I mean, usually it has some relevance, but if this is the case here, it escaped me totally.

It’s not enough to salvage the film, though, and at times it’s all very tired-looking. The genre needed time to rest, and unfortunately this film helped to make the traditional Kung Fu picture persona non grata for a few years. In a very real sense, this movie marks the end of a glorious age, and taken in this context, DISCIPLES OF THE 36th CHAMBER is a little easier to accept. It’s a hard film to like, but it’s impossible to dismiss.

Reviewer Score: 4

Reviewed by: Sydneyguy
Date: 11/15/2004
Summary: Better than i thought

i didn't think the first 2 movies lived up to the hype people were giving it. This movie though i found probably better than the first 2. I think the minimal training but also the training being linked to later fight made this movie more watchable.

Also seeing the main character implusiveness, which did not annoy me, you knew the chraracter would get into trouble but getting out was what you wanted to see.

There is one plot hole i did see, Fong Shiyu mother is suppose to go off with a general then later appears out of nowhere, well not really a plot hole but i just found it odd.

Anyway the ending did feel abrupt and there is a moral to this story, but worth a viewing


Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 01/19/2004
Summary: 3/5

*** DISCIPLES OF 36TH CHAMBER too much goofing around, but some absolutely fantastic action scenes.

Reviewer Score: 6

Reviewed by: magic-8
Date: 09/22/2003
Summary: True Sequel to the 36th Chamber

Lau Kar-Leung returns to the plot line from "The 36th Chamber of Shaolin" in "Disciples of the 36th Chamber," as Gordon Liu reprises his role as Monk San Te and his training of students in Shaolin martial arts. Although this is the second sequel to "The 36th Chamber of Shaolin," it directly follows the original film, whereas the first sequel, "Return to the 36th Chamber," was a deviation, with Gordon Liu assuming the role of another character altogether.

"Disciples of the 36th Chamber" loosely centers on Hsiao Ho as legendary folk hero Fong Sai Yuk. Fong ends up ruffling the feathers of the Manchu leaders. So, Fong's mother, played by the beautiful and lithe Lilly Li, places him in the Shaolin Temple as a refuge from the Manchu. Monk San Te is in charge of Fong's training, but is put off by Fong's arrogance and undisciplined ways, due to his superior martial arts skills, taught to him by his mother. The Manchu are upset over Shaolin Temple as a haven for rebels. The Manchu governor strokes Fong's ego in a secret bid to take out the temple.

Hsiao Ho does a marvelous take on Fong Sai Yuk as a rebellious youth full of spunky brio. Lau Kar-Leung keeps the pace lively and works his magic on some truly athletic and vibrant martial arts choreography. "Disciples of the 36th Chamber" is a delightful continuation of the story established in "The 36th Chamber of Shaolin," and rousing entertainment.