1983, 89 minutes, 35mm
Directed by: Gordon Liu
Starring: Gordon Liu, Adam Cheng, Johnny Wang Lung-wei, Ching Li, Ida Chan, Lee Hoi-sang, Elvis Tsui
Friday, April 19th at 8:30pm
Saturday, April 20th at 2pm
The movie that inspired the Wu-Tang Clan’s first album is a blast of authentic old school mayhem that has not been seen nearly as much as it deserves. Gordon Liu, the bald-headed brother of Shaw Brothers’ legendary master director and martial arts hoss, Lau Kar-leung, was best known at the time for his starring role in 36th Chamber of Shaolin. That role made him an icon across Asia, but when the time came to shoot a sequel, Return to the 36th Chamber, he was ticked off that it was played for laughs and turned into a kung fu comedy by the director. Determined to make a “real” sequel to his most famous film, he raised a bunch of cash, grabbed a bunch of his regular co-stars, and headed off to Taiwan to make this badass spiritual sequel to the move that put him on the map.
A brutally authentic ode to Shaolin Fist and Wu-Tang Sword, Liu plays a student of Shaolin, and his buddy, the charming Adam Cheng (Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain), is a devil-may-care student of Wu-Tang sword (for those of you keeping score, this is the kind of swordplay Zhang Ziyi used in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). The two friends are always sparring, but life is generally good until a fiendishly evil Manchu prince shows up and demands to be taught the secret of Shaolin Fist and Wu-Tang Sword. Denied a kung fu education, he decides that both schools must die. Manipulating them into combat, he kills their masters and figures that once the students beat the tar out of each other it’ll be easy for him to come after the winner and tear off his head.
Despite being an independent production, this flick is shot with the scale and scope of a lush Shaw Brothers production. Starting with one of their super-stylized credit sequences, it unfolds on massive sets, and features huge scenes of two combatants taking down entire armies, then ends with a traditional Shaw Brothers freeze frame. The Manchu prince is played by Johnny Wang Lung-wei, a Shaw Brothers regular who would fight Liu 18 times in the course of their careers (this match-up was number 14). Liu insisted that the Shaolin martial arts and the Wu-Tang swordplay in this movie be entirely accurate, and so the film becaomes an avalanche of action with Liu and Cheng unleashing the beast in scene after scene of blistering combat. The story gets a little melodramatic, but the movie is kept grounded by Liu’s total commitment to making it a stunning showcase for some seriously sleek techniques.
Print provided courtesy of the American Genre Film Archive