Sunday, 8 July 2007

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

The birth of this and a few SB's early kungfu flicks since Bruce Lee's death were a direct result of the Bruce Lee Effect. SB were merrily making wuxia flicks until Bruce Lee came alone, and changed their game plan. No, wuxia genre wasn't dead yet, but was quite wounded, and had to take some bed rest while the kungfu genre went to work, and Gordon Liu was the 1st on SB's kungfu payroll.

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

Unlike wuxia films that required more and more wires over the years, Bruce Lee Effect brought the wire-fu back down to earth. This is the old school what-you-see-is-what-you-get martial art choreography with very limited wires are used (this movie may not have used any).

In a way, it's a step backward, and looking like the wuxia in the early 1960s, except that the action sequences are much more sophisticated, fast, and explosive.

Another major difference is that the kungfu genre usually uses the body as weapon rather than swords. But it may use anything else that they could get their hands on as weapons. It just doesn't restrict to swords. For example, Bruce Lee trademark weapon is his nunchucks. This is both liberating for the genre as well as the martial art director.

And this flick isn't just about kungfu, but how to achieve it in the fabled 35 Chambers in the Shaolin Temple (my tour guide never showed me any of the chambers. No tips for her!). With so many martial arts flicks since this movie that it may come as a shock to audience that this is in fact the 1st major movie about Shaolin kungfu!  There may have been movies where Shaolin Sect played a part. But this movie is the 1st where Shaolin plays not only a majot role, but a title role. This movie paved way for the very successful The Shaolin Temple (1982). And many more that followed.

This movie had also cemented Gordon Liu's status in the SB's kungfu genre, as well as its director Liu Chia-Liang as the next generation of martial arts actor/director after Bruce Lee. In fact, Gordon Liu's movie career only started the same year as Bruce Lee's death.

This was the reason why Tarantino wanted Gordon Liu to appear in Kill Bill, the way Ang Lee wanted Cheng Pei-pei to appear in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, they both were the pioneering action stars in kungfu and nuxia sub-genres respectively. Tarantino actually wanted Bruce Lee, who was truly the father of the kungfu genre, but that wasn't possible.

While Jackie Chan's early successes had strong support from director Yuen Woo-ping, Gordon Liu's early successes had similarly help from director Liu Chia-Liang. Those director-actor relationship was crucial for their mutual successes. Much like singer and song writer. The front men and the men behind them.

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