The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, also known as The Master Killer, Shaolin Master Killer and Shao Lin San Shi Liu Fang, is a 1978 Hong Kong kung fu film directed by Liu Chia-liang and produced by Shaw Brothers, starring Gordon Liu. The film follows a highly fictionalized version of San Te, a legendary Shaolin martial arts disciple who trained under the general Chi Shan.
The 36th Chamber of Shaolin is widely considered to be one of the greatest kung fu films and a turning point in its director’s and star’s careers. It was followed by Return to the 36th Chamber, which was more comedic in presentation and featured Gordon Liu as the new main character with another actor in the smaller role of San Te, and Disciples of the 36th Chamber.
A young student named Liu Yude is drawn by his activist teacher into the local rebellion against the Manchu government. The government officials, headed by the brutal General Tien Ta, however, quickly discover and suppress the uprising, liquidating the school and killing the students’ friends and family members. Yude decides to seek vengeance and liberation for the people, and heads for the Shaolin temple to learn kung fu.
Wounded by Manchu henchmen during an escape, Yude reaches the temple and seeks sanctuary. Initially the monks reject him, since he is an outsider, but the chief abbot takes mercy on the young man and lets him stay. One year later, Yude – now known as San Te – begins his martial arts training in the temple’s 35 chambers, in each of which the temple’s novices are trained in one aspect of the kung fu fighting arts. San Te advances more rapidly than any previous student, reaching the rank of deputy overseer within the space of six years. Challenged by the monastery’s Discipline Chief, who thinks him unfit for his role, San Te has several exhibition matches with him, only to be beaten each time. However, after inventing the three section staff, San Te finally prevails and gains the chief abbot’s permission to become overseer of one of the chambers.
When San Te professes that he wants to create a new chamber where he can train ordinary people in the basics of kung fu so they can defend themselves against their oppressors, the temple officially banishes him in a surreptitious way to allow him to carry out his mission. He returns to the outside world, namely to his hometown, and assists the people, gathering several young men who loyally follow him and become his first students. Before the political revolution he is inspiring reaches completion, he is forced into conflict with Tien Ta. A fierce duel ensues, where San Te is victorious. Eventually, he returns to the Shaolin temple, where he establishes the 36th chamber, a special martial arts class for laypeople to learn kung fu.
Liu Yude/Monk San Te – portrayed by Liu Chia-Hui
General Tien Ta – portrayed by Lo Lieh
Rice Miller Six – portrayed by Wang Yu
Hung Hsi-Kuan – portrayed by Yu Yang
Lu Ah Tsai – portrayed by Hsu Shao-Chiang
Tung Chien-Ching – portrayed by Wu Hang-Sheng
Abbot of Justice Office – portrayed by Hoi Sang Lee