The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978) – Ace Mini-Review

This review was suggested by Sara K. and is a response to their three-part series entitled “Monks, Nuns, and *ahem* Celibacy in Wuxia” at The Notes Which Do Not Fit.

Shǎolín sānshíliù fáng (The 36th Chamber of Shaolin)
Starring: Liu Chia-Hui
Written by: Ni Kuang
Directed by: Liu Chia-Liang
Hong Kong, 1978

How good is this movie?

Not having seen any other kung fu movies from this era, I don’t really have a base of comparison. The acting style, effects, and fight scene choreography don’t conform well to modern standards of realism and may well come off as cheesy. However, it’s worth sitting through the first half hour in order to get to the training sequence. This is the longest and best part of the movie, in which Yude learns by gradual stages the skills needed to be a kung fu master. I appreciated the detail in which each of these lessons is shown, and the fact that Yude must genuinely struggle to learn them. I have more mixed feelings about the plot and its coöpting of religious practice for patriotic purposes. Although Yude becomes a Buddhist monk, the story seems to have little interest in Buddhism as a religion, and his personal grown all happens on the level of fighting skill, rather than spirituality.

How ace is this movie?

There is no sex or romance in the movie. Instead, Yude is completely driven by his mission to learn kung fu, avenge his family, and help his people. Sara K. points out that monks and nuns are almost never celibate in wuxia fiction, making this the rare story where a character takes a religious vow of chastity – and actually keeps it! This positive portrayal of celibacy is certainly ace-friendly, but it is not the focus of the story. Yude never explicitly declines sex with a woman – he’s simply never given the opportunity for it. In fact, there are hardly any women at all in the film, which takes place mostly in all-male communities like the monastery. It’s hard to know how Yude would interact with women as we never see him do so, and while he could be read as asexual he could simply be celibate through devotion to his religion, his order, or his cause.

3 Stars; 3 Aces

4 thoughts on “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978) – Ace Mini-Review

  1. Sara K. says:

    Yes, pretty much everyone agrees that the training sequence is the best part of the movie (in fact, when I show the movie to other people, I just skip the first part and go to the training section).

    There are some good female-centric wuxia stories out there (even in the subgenre of kung-fu movies, which is not the best wuxia subgenre for female characters) but they tend to not even be as ace-friendly as this movie.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Blue Ice-Tea says:

      Yeah, it seems to be a characteristic of movies in general (American movies too), that an all-male cast won’t have any romance, but as soon as you add a woman to the story you’ve got to include a romantic sub-plot. It’s what happens when you combine the sexist assumption that a woman’s primary interest will always be romance and the homophobic assumption that men could never get romantically involved with each other. That might be slowly changing, though.


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