Shawscope: Volume Two

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin

Part of a multi-title set


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Picking up where Volume One left off, this sophomore collection of Hong Kong cinema classics draws together many of the best films from the final years of the Shaw Brothers studio, proving that while the end was nigh, these merchants of martial arts mayhem weren’t going to go out without a fight! Armed with stunning special features and ravishing new restorations, this boxset is even bigger and bolder than the last one.

We begin with kung fu master Lau Kar-leung’s instant classic The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, in which his adoptive brother Gordon Liu achieved overnight stardom as the young man who unexpectedly finds spiritual enlightenment on the path to vengeance; Lau and Liu followed the original with two comically inventive sequels, Return to the 36th Chamber and Disciples of the 36th Chamber, both included here. Already established as a genius at blending dazzling action with physical comedy, Lau himself plays the lead role in the hilarious Mad Monkey Kung Fu, coupled here with Lo Mar’s underrated Five Superfighters. Next, we once again meet Chang Cheh’s basher boy band the Venom Mob in no less than four of their best-loved team-ups: Invincible Shaolin, The Kid with the Golden Arm, Magnificent Ruffians and culminating in the all-star Ten Tigers of Kwangtung, co-starring Ti Lung and Fu Sheng.

After Lau brings us perhaps his best high-kicking comedy with My Young Auntie, a playful star vehicle for his real-life muse Kara Hui, we see Shaw Brothers fully embracing Eighties excess in our strangest double feature yet: Wong Jing’s breathtakingly wild shoot-‘em-up Mercenaries from Hong Kong, and Kuei Chih-hung’s spectacularly unhinged black magic meltdown The Boxer’s Omen. Last but certainly not least, Lau Kar-leung directs the last major Shaw production, Martial Arts of Shaolin, filmed in mainland China with a hot new talent named Jet Li in the lead role; it is paired in this set with The Bare-Footed Kid,

Picture 8/10

Arrow’s second Shawscope box set starts things off with Lau Kar-leung’s classic The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, presented here on the first dual-layer disc of this 8-disc set. The film is presented with a 1080p/24hz high-definition encode in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1.

To my surprise the film has received an all-new 4K restoration credited to L’Immagine Ritrovata, marking the first 4K restoration I’ve come across thus far for a Shaw Bros. film on Blu-ray (through Arrow's releases at least). Considering how most of Arrow’s in-house 2K restorations have come out (like The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter) and how solid (in most respects) Ritrovata’s restoration work is I went into this with incredibly high expectations only to be met with an ever-so-slight tinge of disappointment borne out of the discovery that the image is sadly not as sharp or as crisp as I would have expected.

Some of this can be attributed to the source and that is expected to an extent. Distortion caused by the anamorphic lens, for example, can cause the image to look a little blurry on the edges, while other shots can look ever-so-slightly out-of-focus. But even when the picture is at its “sharpest” the image just isn’t all that… sharp. Finer details get a bit lost in the picture, whether it be in close-ups or long shots, and there can be a waxy texture present throughout.

I suspect some heavier filtering and grain management has been utilized but, like Criterion’s recent Infernal Affairs release, it seems to have been applied in a haphazard manner. Some shots can look particularly grainy with a decent if unspectacular level of detail present, while other shots and sequences deliver grain that has looks to have been scrubbed slightly leading to a waxier texture. Grain is never entirely gone, but there are a number of moments where it just looks to have been flattened out. Since heavy filtering isn’t something that is usually in Ritrovata’s M.O. (they’ve always been good at capturing and retaining film grain and fine detail) I have to assume that Celestial Pictures may have something to do with this, just as I suspect Media Asia Film had something to do with the filtering found in the new Infernal Affairs restorations.

Thankfully, it never comes off ridiculously heavy and objects and people don't come out look as though they are made from plasticine. I'm also happy to say the restoration work has been quite thorough: no severe marks or damage ever pop up. Colours lean warm but aren’t overly yellow, whites looking like a warm white and blues still looking blue. Black levels are also very strong and I was very impressed with the rendering in the shadows, range appearing to be very wide allowing for the tinier details to show up.

Ultimately the presentation looks fine and it still gets the job done. I just came into this one with higher expectations and it just appears they couldn't be met. Some of the 2K restorations in this set (and the previous set) end up looking better than this one.

Audio 6/10

Arrow includes three soundtracks, all in single-channel DTS-HD MA: the default one in Mandarin followed by a Cantonese track and an English one. The Mandarin one may be the better one in that it sounds the cleanest, though the other two aren’t terrible themselves. They can all be a little flat and even tinny at times, and all three have signs of dubbing (the English one being the most obvious of course). I can’t say I noticed any pops or drops, and damage is non-existent. Range ends up being decent if unspectacular. All around they’re perfectly fine and about what I would have expected.

Extras 9/10

The film ends up receiving one of the more stacked editions in the set, first receiving an all-new audio commentary by Travis Crawford, who sadly passed away this past summer. The track is a wide ranging one covering just about every possible target related the film, from the content of the film itself to the individuals involved in its production to how it’s impacted just about every martial arts film since. This leads to discussion around director Lau’s background including his first being a “protégé” of Chang Cheh (Crawford noting that Lau’s style and focus would ultimately different drastically from Cheh’s) and then the direction his films would go after this film, which was more of a comedic path. He’ll then go on fun little tangents about loosely connected subjects, like this film’s (and other Shaw production) history on home video in the States, and he even brings up the film’s “sequels,” which appear on the next disc in the set. Though it can go from one subject to the next without warning it’s still a nicely constructed track and Crawford keeps it engaging and informative.

Arrow then includes a second commentary featuring film scholar Tony Rayns, though it ends up being a “select-scene” track that runs over 74-or-sominutes’ worth of the film. Crawford’s track did such a fine job covering the film and various topics related to it that I had to wonder what Rayns could possibly bring to the table. As it is Rayns’ discussion ends up focussing on the impact the film had, on the Hong Kong film industry, martial arts films, Lau’s career, and even the careers of other directors like Chang Cheh (with Rayns suggesting this film ended the Cheh’s reign at Shaw). He also offers more historical context around the story, its relation to the other Shaolin Temple films (mentioning Challenge of the Masters and such) and how the film’s many innovations, including the focus on training, can still be seen in films today. He also gets a bit more into the two “sequels.” Crawford’s track does of course touch on all of the same topics but Rayns’ contribution delves quite a bit deeper making it one that’s still very much worth listening to.

It also appears Rayns recorded the track with the intention of having long pauses between his talking points (since he keeps “welcoming” viewers back throughout) but Arrow has impressively taken the time to edit the film down through seamless branching so that the presentation automatically jumps to when Rayns starts speaking again. There’s no need to jump through the film using the “skip” button.

The rest of the disc’s features is then consists of archival materials starting with a 20-minute interview from 2003 featuring actor Gordon Liu. Liu talks about his background (a lot of which Crawford does cover in his track), relation to Lau (he was adopted into his family) and how his first starring role in 36th Chamber triggered his career to take off. He points out, much to his amazement, that he’s even recognized abroad. He also talks a little about Challenge of the Masters and Wong Fei-hung, which then interestingly segues into discussion around the Once Upon a Time in China films and director Tsui Hark.

I’ve seen a lot of interviews with Liu as of late and impressively he rarely repeats himself in them, so I found this one especially good since he talks more about his early days. Liu then appears in a couple of Celestial produced featurettes: the 16-minute Shaolin: A Hero’s Birthplace and the 6-minute Elegant Trails: Gordon Liu. Neither are especially involving, feeling more promotional in nature, but the former delves a bit more into the Liu’s and Lau’s relationship while the latter manages to show off his musical side.

A 2006 interview with cinematographer Arthur Wong is then up next. He first offers up background around how he got into the business before talking about his work, focusing more on his collaborations with Lau Kar-leung as both a director and actor (Mad Monkey Kung Fu, also found in this set, does come up). He shares some technical details about how he worked around the limitations of the equipment he used and even gets a little into working in foreign markets. It proves to be a very fascinating 28-minute discussion.

Musician Lovely John then pops up for a new feature, the 37-minute Tiger Style: The Musical Impact of Martial Arts Cinema, which interestingly enough not only goes over how martial arts films would sample music, but also how the genre has influenced many genres of music that include the likes of reggae, funk, dance, hip hop and more. The most interesting portion of the discussion revolves around how RZA was particularly taken by 36th Chamber, the film and its themes leading him to reassess his life and ultimately influencing his music. It just goes to show how a film can literally change someone’s life.

Arrow then includes the second part from the series Cinema Hong Kong, which focuses on swordfighting in martial arts films. Interestingly Arrow also included this documentary on their release for Come Drink with Me. The 50-minute episode ends up focusing on the wuxia sub-genre of martial arts films, delving deep into its film history from the silent era to the then-recent Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, examining its roots in Beijing opera and circus acrobatics. In the last section it then looks at how directors would approach these films differently, with Hu going from being interested in the choreography to focusing on camera movements instead, or how Chang Cheh would load his with violence. Again, this is a great program and if one has not managed to see any of them yet they’re well worth diving into.

Arrow then closes the disc off with a gallery (featuring a decent sized collection of production photos, lobby cards, posters, and home video art), the Hong Kong and German trailers along with a digital reissue trailer and the US TV spot that features the film’s alternate title Master Killer. In relation to that the disc also features the alternate English opening credits that feature the “Master Killer” title.

Considering the film’s reputation (and I’m still sort of surprised Arrow isn’t releasing it separately) I’m not too shocked to see it’s one of the more stacked titles in the set, and I’m happy to say it’s all well worth going through.


Arrow has put together a great set of features for the title but the 4K restoration falls a little short of expectations.

Part of a multi-title set


10 Discs | BD-50/CD
2.35:1 ratio
English 1.0 PCM Mono
Cantonese 1.0 PCM Mono
Mandarin 1.0 PCM Mono
Subtitles: English
Regions A/B/None
 Brand new feature commentary by critic Travis Crawford for The 36th Chamber of Shaolin   Brand new select-scene commentary by film critic and historian Tony Rayns for The 36th Chamber of Shaolin   Interview with 36th Chamber of Shaolin star Gordon Liu, filmed in 2003   Interview with 36th Chamber of Shaolin cinematographer Arthur Wong, filmed in 2006   Shaolin: Birthplace: archive featurette with Gordon Liu produced by Celestial Pictures in 2003   Hero and Elegant Trails: archive featurette with Gordon Liu produced by Celestial Pictures in 2003   Tiger Style: The Musical Impact of Martial Arts Cinema, a newly filmed overview of Shaw Brothers’ influence on hip hop and other music genres, featuring music historian Lovely Jon   Cinema Hong Kong: Swordfighting, a documentary on the history of the wuxia genre and Shaw Brothers’ contributions to it, produced by Celestial Pictures in 2003 and featuring interviews with Cheng Pei-pei, Gordon Liu, Lau Kar-leung, John Woo, Sammo Hung, Kara Hui, David Chiang and others   Alternate opening credits from the American version of The 36th Chamber of Shaolin titled Master Killer   Hong Kong trailer for The 36th Chamber of Shaolin   German trailer for The 36th Chamber of Shaolin   US TV spot for The 36th Chamber of Shaolin   Interview with Return to 36th Chamber star Gordon Liu, filmed in 2003   Citizen Shaw, a French TV documentary from 1980 directed by Maurice Frydland, in which Sir Run Run Shaw gives an all-access tour of the Shaw Brothers backlot (including behind-the-scenes footage from Return to the 36th Chamber), remastered in high definition   Hero on the Scaffolding, an archive featurette produced by Celestial Pictures in 2003   Alternate opening credits sequences for Return to the 36th Chamber   Alternate opening credits sequences for Disciples of the 36th Chamber   Hong Kong trailer for Return to the 36th Chamber   Hong Kong trailer for Disciples of the 36th Chamber   Brand new commentary for Mad Monkey Kung Fu by martial arts cinema experts Frank Djeng and Michael Worth   Newly filmed appreciation of Mad Monkey Kung Fu by film critic and historian Tony Rayns   Interview with actor Hsiao Hou, filmed in 2004   Shaw in the USA, a brand new featurette on how Shaw Brothers broke America featuring Grady Hendrix and Chris Poggiali, authors of These Fists Break Bricks   Hong Kong trailer for Mad Monkey Kung Fu   US trailer for Mad Monkey Kung Fu   Hong Kong trailer for Five Superfighters   UK VHS promo for Five Superfighters   Interview with action director Robert Tai, filmed in 2003   Poison Clan Rocks The World, a brand new visual essay on the Venom Mob written and narrated by author Terrence J. Brady   Alternate ""continuity"" cut of The Kid With The Golden Arm, presented via seamless branching   Alternate and textless title sequences for The Kid with the Golden Arm   Hong Kong theatrical trailer for Invincible Shaolin   Hong Kong theatrical trailer (audio only) for The Kid with the Golden Arm   US TV spot for The Kid with the Golden Arm   Brand new audio commentary on Ten Tigers of Kwangtung by filmmaker Brandon Bentley   Interview with star Chin Siu-ho, filmed in 2003   Rivers and Lakes, a brand new video essay on Shaw Brothers’ depiction of Chinese myth and history, written and narrated by Jonathan Clements, author of A Brief History of China   Hong Kong (audio only) trailer for Magnificent Ruffians   German trailer for Magnificent Ruffians   Hong Kong trailers (Mandarin and Cantonese audio options) for Ten Tigers of Kwangtung   US TV spot for Ten Tigers of Kwangtung   Brand new select-scene commentary for My Young Auntie by film critic and historian Tony Rayns   Interview with My Young Auntie star Kara Hui, filmed in 2003   Cinema Hong Kong: The Beauties of the Shaw Studios, the final instalment in the three-part documentary produced by Celestial Pictures in 2003   Alternate standard-definition VHS version   Hong Kong theatrical trailer   Brand new commentary on The Boxer’s Omen by critic Travis Crawford   Newly filmed appreciation of filmmaker Kuei Chih-hung by film critic and historian Tony Rayns   Additional footage from Mandarin VHS version of The Boxer's Omen   Interview with Mercenaries from Hong Kong action director Tong Kai, filmed in 2009   Hong Kong trailer for Mercenaries from Hong Kong   Hong Kong trailer for The Boxer's Omen   Brand new commentary on Martial Arts of Shaolin by Jonathan Clements   Brand new commentary on The Bare-Footed Kid by Frank Djeng of the NY Asian Film Festival   Newly filmed appreciations Martial Arts of Shaolin and The Bare-Footed Kid by film critic and historian Tony Rayns   Interview with Martial Arts of Shaolin screenwriter Sze Yeung-ping, filmed in 2004   Alternate standard-definition version of Martial Arts of Shaolin   Hong Kong trailer for Martial Arts of Shaolin   Japanese trailer for Martial Arts of Shaolin   Trailers for the preceding Shaolin Temple films starring Jet Li   Hong Kong trailer for The Bare-Footed Kid   UK VHS promo for The Bare-Footed Kid   Image galleries   CD featuring music from The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, Five Superfighters, Invincible Shaolin and The Kid with the Golden Arm   CD featuring music from Return to the 36th Chamber, Magnificent Ruffians, Ten Tigers of Kwangtung, My Young Auntie, Mercenaries from Hong Kong and Disciples of the 36th Chamber   Illustrated 60-page collectors’ book featuring new writing by David Desser, Jonathan Clements, Lovely Jon and David West, plus cast and crew listings and notes on each film by Simon Abrams