Its been said that this is the prototypical training film, although many others dealing with similar material preceded it. Even Rocky (1976) predates The 36th Chamber by two years, but its a tried-and-true formula that, given a Shaolin angle and Gordon Laus performance, cant possibly lose.Just for the record, some have commented on Laus physical inferiority to Bruce Lee I dunno, though, folks, Gordon looks pretty cut up to me. Hello?! Didnt yall see the opening sequence? Physiques aside, Lau is absolutely endearing as the eager beaver monk in training. We all love the in-your-face explosiveness of Bruce Lee, but Lau is equally charismatic in his own quiet, elflike way. His on-screen enthusiasm and perseverance are infectious as all get-out. Certainly an inspiration for anyone whos had to learn something from the very beginning that would include all of us, wouldnt it? And unlike Mark Hamills uneasy transformation from Tatooine farm boy to Jedi Knight, Lau is totally convincing at every stage of his transition to full-fledged monk.
The training sequences themselves are fascinating and sometimes quite painful to watch with great names like the Sword Chamber, the Leg Chamber, the Wrist Chamber. That wrist room, by the way, involves an exercise that my own sifu makes me do, so I really felt that one. Yeeeee-ouch!Now one thing The 36th Chamber does nicely is balance humor with drama. After all, this is in many ways a revenge film, but it also has a light touch that is never misplaced or forced.
If I have one complaint about this movie, its that the fight scenes are just not my cup o tea. I have an actual physical reaction to them. There are some people that just love this old-school stuff, but, frankly, that kind of stilted rhythm (ONE-TWO-THREE-FOUR!!!) makes me a bit nauseous.
On a final note, The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin brings up questions regarding the martial arts. Protecting the integrity of an art is important, but sharing that art is a necessary part of preserving it something the Shaolin monks were reluctant to do. Similarly, Bruce Lee would often say that Jeet Kune Do was not for the masses. That he did not develop standardized criteria for his art, however, has led to the criminal misrepresentation and near-total destruction of JKD. It has forced some of his first generation students to step out of the shadows in an attempt to recover what has been lost. At what point does catering to the masses compromise integrity, and is refusal to share knowledge equally detrimental?No doubt youll be hearing more from me on this subject, but for now, I am sure of one thing. Bruce was big on physical fitness, so Im off to the Leg Chamber. See you in the gym.
Read the review of Return to the 36th Chamber