While San Te in the first film went on an intense spiritual journey, Shiyu never really does. A couple of new training sequences, including the glorious 'Chamber Of Jumping On The Roof' as bonkers as it sounds and 'Chamber Of Water Posts' in which a bunch of dudes fight with giant heavy poles while submerged in water are imaginative and a joy to watch. He's the son of a fishmonger, sick of seeing his family and friends persecuted by the Manchu oppressors who rule the province with an iron fist. It's as visually stunning as anything in the series the Lantern Festival scene during which Ho Hsiao does kung fu on the back of a festival lion is jawdropping and the fighting, when it happens, is great. Well, for one, it's beautifully made. The sets and costumes are as lavish as you'd expect from the Shaws but the technicality of the filmmaking is off the scale. At the height of the kung fu boom, the Shaws were producing 30 to 40 films per year and the quality was shockingly high.
As a result, the plot has neither the emotional resonance of the first nor the clever irony of the second, but that's not to say it's all bad. With his learning complete, he takes on the Manchus. Read and download the full Den of Geek Special Edition magazine here! It shows elements of Chinese history and allegorical folklore that, in 1978, had rarely been seen in films exported to the west. The brothers in question - Runme, Runje and Runde, later joined by little brother Run Run - set up the first incarnation of their film studio Tianyi in 1925 and, by the 1960s, dominated the Chinese film industry. Shiyu lacks not just good manners and respect for authority but also any sense, making mistake after mistake and nearly destroying the temple in the process with his oblivious arrogance.
It's a clever trick, combining two legendary characters like this, but unfortunately Fang Shiyu here is about as endearing as a Robbie Williams tribute act. Return To The 36th Chamber is perhaps second-tier Shaw material but Liu's presence and Lau's creativity make it nevertheless watchable. There are chambers devoted to the practice of individual weapons. During a brutal Manchu attack, Lui manages to escape and devotes himself to learning the martial arts in order to seek revenge. The kung fu still feels fresh throughout and the original film resonates with all the power it ever did, standing up to just about anything else in the genre quite capably. Sometimes we're watching as many as 20 different moves by 20 different people in just one unedited shot.
As Shaw favourites go, it may not have the raw brutality of King Boxer or the psychotronic madness of the Deadly Venoms films but it has a special depth that shines through the decades and continues to inspire and enthrall new generations of film fans. The end result is a compelling, sophisticated martial arts film. The earlier ones play San Te's incompetence for laughs but, as he moves through the chambers and improves his skills, the tasks become harder and more exciting. Obviously, a sequel would have a lot to live up to but the film's success demanded one. Their Movietown studio in Hong Kong was one of the largest and most technically advanced in the world and the martial arts films it made in the 1970s led the charge of bringing Chinese cinema to the west.
Some focus on training individual parts of the body, such as the incredible 'Head Chamber' where he has to fight his way through hanging sandbags using only his head. . Having completed the training in record time, he petitions the Temple to open a '36th Chamber' that allows laymen to learn kung fu, thus creating a force of highly-trained martial artists ready to start a full blown revolution against the Manchus. Liu reportedly suffered many injuries during the filming, and watching, say, the incredible blade fight between him and superstar Lo Lieh, it's easy to see why. Its characters are well-drawn and it has more political and philosophical depth than your average revenge plot. Others focus on mental discipline, like the 'Eye Chamber' where he stands between two flaming sticks and tries not to move his head while watching a pendulum swing. Hilariously, he manages to sneak his way amongst the monks thanks to his uncanny resemblance to the legendary San Te funny, that! He spends years doing it and inadvertently learns all the skills required for Shaolin kung fu without realising it, creating a whole new style known as 'scaffolding kung fu.
It's balletic and breathtaking, a testament to the killer combination of Lau's artistic vision and Liu's phenonemal Hung Fist skills. If you've watched more than a handful of Chinese martial arts films, you'll be familiar with the iconic Shaw Brothers logo that adorns so many credits sequences. Although he joins a group of revolutionaries, their plans are discovered by the Manchus and a bloody massacre ensues. Most of the chambers are iconic and imaginative. In a short period of time he masters the deadly use of his fists, feet and palms, along with such weapons as swords, sticks, and lances.
Although Shaolin is closed to outsiders, the monks take him in and heal him, seeing his arrival as an act of providence. The best thing about the film, however, is the way the training sequences are inverted. Eventually, San Te creates his own weapon - a three-jointed nunchaku that needs to be seen in action to be believed - and becomes both physically and mentally ready to become true Shaolin. There's initial resistance to training him but, when it's clear he's not giving up, they give him a monk name San Te and allow him to enter the 35 training chambers. Many of the big names in Hong Kong cinema got their start working at Movietown and the system allowed the 'star' directors tremendous creative control over their output. He just kind of gets away with being a dick through luck and with a little help from his Shaolin friends.
Absolutely anything involving the dynamic duo of Liu and Lau will be a treat at times but Disciples, despite its highlights, isn't one of their best. Lau was also a highly skilled martial artist and master of the difficult Hung Fist style, which is how he initially met Gordon Liu. His character is an already skilled martial artist who upsets the Manchus and has to flee to Shaolin for sanctuary. Jen Cheh is terrible at kung fu and unable to learn so the 'real' San Te played this time by Lee King-chue , now a temple abbot, sets him to work on erecting a difficult scaffolding all around Shaolin instead. The rest is, literally, history. There's a certain poignancy to Liu's performance too as he gives Jen Cheh an extra dimension; that of the sad clown destroyed by the fact that none of his revolutionary friends take him seriously and that his only real skill is pretending to be someone else a possible metaphor for an actor's lot in life.