Posts Tagged ‘Chia-Hui Liu’

Movie Reviews 312 – The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

September 7, 2017

About 20 minutes into The 36th Chamber of Shaolin I thought “What’s the big deal?”. I’d heard so much about how this was supposed to be a classic martial arts movie, a fan favorite and consistently ranking in most ‘best of’ or top 10 lists. Sure it stars Chia-Hui Liu (better known as Gordon Liu to English audiences) but the first act of the film is as generic as it gets. Poor villagers being exploited by corrupt rulers. Young man and his friends vainly try to rebel. Wants to learn how to fight. Seen it all a million times.

This movie really begins when the rebellious youngster Yude (Liu) turns to a Shaolin temple hoping to learn Kung Fu only to be initially rebuffed. The Shaolin are a solitary group and shun the outside world, including all the evil that exist beyond their walls. His request is seen as interference from the outside but one of the monks takes pity on him and convinces the others to let him stay on for menial chores. After one year they reassess his situation and, with some dissent, they allow him to train, which is done by progressing through a succession of ‘chambers’, each intended to teach him a skill or impart a piece of wisdom. Eager to learn, Yude, now given the monk name of San Te, requests to start with the hardest. Upon entering the room with encountering nothing more than chanting monks he is befuddled and confused, It is explained that this last chamber requires enlightenment to even comprehend the significance. He must begin at the start.

He soon learns that the lessons to be learned in each of chambers are not necessarily forms of fighting, but a battle of wits, poise, restraint, determination and intelligence. His tasks sometimes seem impossible such as walking across floating tied bamboo bundles to cross a water filled threshold. Or ringing a bell with a weight tied to a long length of stick in synchronization with monks banging wooden bells … with one hand alone. The trials are both fun to watch and often agonizing. Each trial is lead by a tutor who does not tell the students how to accomplish the task, but makes sure they follow the rules within which the task must be completed, rules that are sure to inflict pain and suffering with every misstep.

But with defiant determination, he makes tremendous progress. His final test is against one of the monks who doubts his skills, which San Te tries over and over to conquer. When finally he completes his trials, and the monks present him with the opportunity to become the tutor in any one of the 35 chambers, but he instead makes the audacious request to create a 36th chamber. His request is to bring the Shaolin teachings to the outside world so that good young men can be recruited and learn Kung Fu in order to defend themselves accordingly. Once again he is denied his request, but is nonetheless allowed to leave and go among the people.

He returns to his old village and begins to teach the villagers what he has learned and in doing so, utilizes all the skills he acquired in 35 chambers.

Exhibiting an exceptional display of skills and battles under the choreography of director Chia-Liang Liu, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin is indeed a film that every martial arts movie fan must watch. The wraparound storyline in which two generals abuse their powers is just icing on the cake while providing the justification for the Shaolin instruction. While San Te (and Gordon Liu) take a stern approach to the teaching and his goal to help the victims back home, there is just a taste of light comedy to lighten the mood at appropriate moments. This is not just a movie with a  message about good versus evil, but one with many messages and words of wisdom. Thirty-six, to be exact.

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Movie Reviews 285 – Clan of the White Lotus (1980)

January 26, 2017

Clan of the White LotusFor martial arts movie aficionados, what could be better than watching a battle featuring the great Pai Mei as the opening credits roll to begin a movie? Right from the first frame of Clan of the White Lotus we are treated to an awesome battle pitting two young men, Hu Ah-Biao (King Chu Lee) and Hung Wen-Ting (Chia-Hui Liu a.k.a the great Gordon Liu) battling the silver haired and lighting quick master. With dazzling acrobatics and breakneck speed the two determined antagonists finally overcome their seasoned foe and mete a final winning blow.

As the scene cuts to an emissary reading out a declaration from the emperor, a narrator explains that all prisoners that were followers of the Shaolin temple including Ah-Biao have been pardoned and are to be released. But the White Lotus Pai Mei (Lieh Lo who also directed the movie) does not take the news well and sends out his thug army to kill all of the prisoners that were released with the primary goal being to kill Ah-Biao, Wen-Ting seeming to have avoided incarceration. While the ambush is a slaughter for the newly freed Shaolin disciples marching their way home, Ah-Biao himself is spared having left the group earlier. But the clan of the White Lotus, eventually track him at his home where his pregnant wife Mei-Hsiao (Kara Hui), Wen-Ting the equally deft fighter Tsing-Tsing are welcoming the warrior back home.

No sooner does Ah-Biao settle in for a long awaited home cooked meal with his beloved and good friends does Pai Mei’s conscript’s arrive to settle the score with Ah-Biao and his his companions. But the two couples, each highly skilled fighters in their own right, put up an effective but eventual losing battle. Wen-Ting and Mei-Hsiao flee, leaving Ah-Biao and Tsing-Tsing to suffer the ultimate fate at the hands of Pai Mei.

The two take refuge with a relative of Mei-Hsiao, where she soon has her baby and as Wen-Ting endeavors to enhance his fighting skills so that he may one day enact revenge on the seemingly unbeatable master, so named after his bushy white eyebrows. Wen-Ting believes that the answer lies in combining Crane style and Tiger style fight manoeuvres, but every time he pits himself in battle against the silver haired Pai Mei, he still proves to be no match. Practicing against paper clothed bamboo mannequins, it is Mei-Hsiao that diagnoses his problem. His over aggressive, full force styles of conflict must be tempered with a soft touch. She teaches him that his Crane and Tiger stances must be abetted with tender, woman like strokes like that of threading a needle in order to have a comprehensive and effective fighting arsenal. The solution is further improved when Wen-Ting discovers acupuncture as a means of ‘threading the needle’. With that newfound technique in hand he takes one last stab (pun intended) at the villainous master.

While perhaps not as revered as other Kung Fu movies of it’s era, the Shaw Brothers studios’ Clan of the White Lotus (also known as both Fist of the White Lotus and Fists of the White Lotus) is the epitome of the genre. Superb and agile action sequences framing a quasi-realistic and passionate story line. The fighting and practice scenes are both streamlined and intricate along with a dollop of comic relief in the guise of a lazy relative and a few cliché Kung Fu grips such as the seven second death touch.

If some of the above seems familiar (as it should), the character of Pai Mei was more recently brought back into the spotlight in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill 2, and played by Gordon Liu for an ironic role reversal. Tarantino being a longtime fan of 70’s martial art films, often uses both characters and actors from the heyday of the genre and Clan of the White Lotus was obviously an influence.

While the English transfer does suffer some hiccups and slightly confusing bits (the exact nature of the opening sequence being one) presumably due to poor translation or actual scene omissions, the end result is still more than satisfying.This masterwork is not to be missed.