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Issue #179 HOME E-mail: mail@dighkmovies.com BACK ISSUES September 29th, 2003

Return to the 36th Chamber
(1980; Shaw Brothers)

A Masterpiece
Highly Recommended
Very Good
Marginal Recommendation
Not Recommended
Definitely Not Recommended

Cantonese: Siu lam daap paang daai si
Mandarin: Shao lin da peng da shi
English: The Shaolin Monk Who Constructs Frames

Alternate English Title: Return of the Master Killer

Director Lau Kar-leung opted to send-up his 1978 classic (reviewed in issue #162) with this lightweight period entry, which casts Gordon Lau Kar-fai as a conman hired to impersonate the Shaolin master he played so impeccably in the original film. Bossed around by Manchu thugs and denied a proper wage for their work, the employees of the Chiang Tai Dye Mill enlist the services of rogue Chou (Lau). Passing himself off as San Te (with a little behind-the-scenes help to enhance his non-existent kung fu abilities), Chou tries to scare the Manchus into restoring the workers' salaries. However, the charade comes to an abrupt end when he is forced to face off against evil Boss Wang (Johnny Wang Lung-wei), a true martial arts master. Humiliated by his defeat, Chou tries to get into Shaolin Temple, so that he may actually learn some kung fu. He is even less successful at fooling the monks but the real San Te (Power Lee King-chu) takes pity on him, allowing Chou to stay on and work. While erecting bamboo scaffolding around various building in the temple, Chou observes the students practising and comes up with his own equivalent training, using construction materials. In the process, he learns the skills he needs to take on and defeat the Manchus.

Gordon Lau gets to display both his kung fu and comedic skills here and does a terrific job in both areas. Also, the "training sequences" are amusingly creative variations on those found in the original, making this a clever alternative to producing a standard sequel. Some purists have complained about the amount of humor here; admittedly, it does get a bit broad at times and may reflect the huge success of Jackie Chan's Seasonal pictures. Regardless, this remains well above the norm for kung fu comedies of the time and Lau's martial prowess more than makes up for a few missteps (like Hsiao Hou's character, who sports the ridiculous novelty teeth Sammo Hung wore in HAND OF DEATH). Watching Lau jump, slide, and bend his way in and around the bamboo poles is every bit as exhilarating as a first rate combat scene. Kara Hui Ying-hung, Donald Kong To, Wei Pai, Hsiao Hou, and Yeung Ching-ching also appear in support.

Cover art courtesy Intercontinental.

Gordon Lau. Image courtesy Intercontinental.

Gordon Lau. Image courtesy Intercontinental.
Intercontinental #100697 (Hong Kong label)

Dolby Digital 5.1

Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks (both post-synced)

Optional Subtitles in English, Traditional Chinese, Malaysian, and Indonesian

12 Chapters Illustrated in the Menu With Clips

Enhanced for 16:9 Displays

Letterboxed (2.35:1)

Coded for Region 3 Only

NTSC Format

99 Minutes (at 25 frames-per-second)

Contains mild violence

DVD menu courtesy Intercontinental.

Australia: PG
Great Britain: PG
Ontario: PG
Singapore: PG

Some dirt is present under the opening credits but the transfer otherwise looks quite nice, with only some intermittent softness and contrast problems. The new audio mix adds some dimension but overdoes it with the background ambience (during one of the temple sequences, it sounds like a small earthquake is occurring outside!). The theatrical trailer is not included, alas. Instead, we are offered five video promo spots plus the original poster, a photo gallery, and a biography/selected filmography section. The main extra is "Hero on the Scaffolding," a 15 minute documentary which, among other points, reveals that bamboo scaffolds are still used in 95% of HK building and demolition projects. Comments from Gordon Lau, a martial arts teacher, and some construction personnel are included.

RETURN TO THE 36TH CHAMBER is available at Poker Industries.

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