Return to the 36th Chamber | aka Return of the Master Killer (1980) Review

"Return to the 36th Chamber" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"Return to the 36th Chamber" Chinese Theatrical Poster

AKA: Master Killer 2
Director: Lau Kar Leung
Writer: Ni Kuang
Producer: Run Run Shaw
Cast: Gordon Liu Chia Hui, Johnny Wang Lung Wei, Hsiao Ho, Kong Do, Kwan Yung Moon, Ching Chu, Kara Hui Ying Hung, Bruce Lai, Yeung Jing Jing, Wong Ching Ho
Running Time: 99 min.

By JJ Hatfield

After the astounding success of The 36th Chamber of Shaolin there were two sequels planned by the Shaw Studios. The third and final film in the series is Disciples Of The 36th Chamber. Naturally the same characters, writers, crew and most actors were on board.

Liu Chia-Liang was not known to be fond of such practices as movie sequels, as in exactly the same. It was apparently encouraged to spice things up. Unfortunately for the viewer he went for one of his famous aspects as a director – humor. Most of the time his humor is tolerable or works well enough with the action. With this movie I kept wondering if it was a spoof, and unintended spoof or if it was just bad.

In most old school movies there is sufficient action or drama to allow for some goofy gags. I was prepared and I wanted to see more of San Te as the young monk. You don’t get it. I was quite disappointed when I first saw this as I was expecting a sequel and was very excited for some memorable new action/story.

It didn’t seem as though Liu Chia-Liang was putting much into it and just wanted it done.

In a fairly prosperous village, the primary source of commerce is the local dye factory that turns out high quality dyed material. One day the peace and quiet is shattered when evil Manchus storm in and set up a rival factory. Before long, acts of sabotage and violence are visited upon the locals. They decide to stand up and demand their rights. Understandable and infuriating but they all end up defeated and wounded. In desperation they ask one of the local con men to help them. He agrees and decides that he will impersonate a Shaolin Monk–in particular, San Te.

Why the hell would any culture find this amusing? Take an established likable character (San Te) and play switch. ha ha ha. I get it – I just don’t think it’s comedy.

There are numerous ways the script could have easily had Gordon Liu being San Te. Maybe Liu Chia-Liang was trying too hard to make it different, or maybe he just lost interest. There is definitely a “dead end” feeling times to the movie.

When the con man sees the villagers are even worse off after his scam, he seeks out Shaolin so he can learn to fight and return and help his friends get rid of the bastard Manchus. The con man is told he cannot be a regular Shaolin disciple, and if he wishes to stay they have some work for him to do. He is required to build a new structure for the Shaolin monastery. The con man is not happy with the arrangement, but he is determined to learn something to return to the village and help the ones he let down. So while he is building for the monks he is also watching everything they do.

The training is different than I have seen before, a method he calls “scaffolding kung fu” or “construction kung fu”. It is interesting to watch but drags on too long. By the time the building is done, the former cheat has been transformed to calm and rational action when called for in a situation. The villagers are not impressed, but soon he is taking on all the bad guys.

Don’t want to say much. Some fans rave about this being a great film. I was hoping for action and people looking good doing it while in a very peaceful monastery

I really thought this was going to be very cool and it’s just not. The “funny” characters’ funny prosthetics just weren’t funny. There is some sort of smoldering feeling, almost like bitterness sometimes, but there were enormous changes going on in the industry and some of that comes through the movie. I understood what Liu Chia-Liang was going, for but he totally wasted Kara Hui and Hsiao Ho. What a disappointment.

My complaints are somewhat minor but they did lower the rating. There was something missing and more than a couple of unresolved issues but in the context of the movie I suppose it doesn’t matter.

JJ Hatfield’s Rating: 5.5/10

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About JJ Hatfield

i like movies
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3 Responses to Return to the 36th Chamber | aka Return of the Master Killer (1980) Review

  1. I was always curious about this one. Too bad it falls into sequel hell. It’s no wonder the sequel(s) are never mentioned when the greatness of the original is brought up. Speaking of Kara Hui wasted (by that, I mean what you meant, not “drunk”), check out her cameo role in “Chinatown Kid”… I think it was her first film. She plays a someone who is forced into being a whore. (like I said, wasted!)

  2. JJ Hatfield says:

    This is a rather odd film. I wondered if it might have been a script for another film, changed to fit into the “Chamber” mode. Did the director/crew? say fine – you want humor well here ya go! Or was this a payback of sorts. I’ve often thought there was something….difficult to translate into words, that just feels kind of bitter, if that makes sense.

    The “36th Chamber of Shaolin” is a wonderful film. As is “Disciples Of The 36th Chamber”

    “Return To Th 36th Chamber” just doesn’t work for me.

    (Now I have to go watch Chinatown Kid. Fu Sheng was really good in this one)

  3. T. J. Gushiniere says:

    I do have a bizzare sense of humor. Ex-soldiers turned cops tend to have a weird sense of humor to blow off stress, or maybe its just me. I can understand why some do not care for this one but I liked it. Good review, and I understand the points you made. I plan to review this one and present my spin on it, after I get the review I’m working on posted. Good job as usual JJ.

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