Return To The 36th Chamber (HK 1980)

Rating: **(*)
Review Date: 7/31/05
Director: Liu Chia Liang (Lau Kar Leung)
Cast: Liu Chia Hui (Gordon Liu), Wang Lung, cameos by Wei Ying Hung, Hsiao Hou

Liu Chia Liang and Gordon Liu had a huge hit on their hands with "36th Chamber Of Shaolin" (1978), so a sequel was inevitable. Unfortunately, this is not the sequel that people were looking forward to, as it is completely unrelated in every way. Gordon Liu plays a con-man who extorts people by impersonating a Shaolin monk. When his friends at the dyeing mill get shafted by their new Manchurian bosses, he fools them into submission with his "unbeatable" skills. After a small victory, the head boss (Wang Lung) sees through his deception and everyone is beaten mercilessly. Liu finally decides to learn real kung fu by sneaking into Shaolin Temple, but the abbot is wise to his pranks and forces him to build scaffolding for the temple's renovation. Unwittingly, Liu learns kung fu through his scaffolding experience and it's not long before he heads back home to avenge his friends.

Unfortunately, like most of Liu Chia Liang's kung fu comedies, "Return To The 36th Chamber" is a tiresome chore to sit through. A full hour into the film, Gordon Liu finally starts his scaffold training, and then shortly thereafter finally gets to put it to good use. If you just skip to the last half hour, the film is a wonderful showcase of fascinating kung fu choreography and Gordon Liu's skillful execution, but up until then, it's a wince-inducing trial. The final showdown with Wang Lung is excellent, but slightly silly as the Manchurians' weapon of choice happens to be a bench. The beautiful Wei Ying Hung is also around, but sadly only as a fleeting window dressing. The Celestial DVD features a bizarrely insightful documentary on Hong Kong's traditional bamboo scaffolding industry, and how useful kung fu is to being a scaffolder. Fascinating.