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, later known as San Te, is drawn by his activist teacher into the local rebellion against the Manchu government. The government officials suppress the uprising and liquidate the school, killing friends and family members as well. San Te then decides to seek vengeance. Wounded in an attack by Manchu henchmen, he flees to the Shaolin temple and seeks training in kung fu. Initially the Buddhist 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, he begins his martial arts training in the temple's 35 chambers and advances more rapidly than any previous student. Along the way, he is depicted as inventing the three section staff.
However, as San Te nears the end of his education, the temple officially exiles him in a surreptitious way to allow him to aid the people against the oppressors. He returns to the outside world, namely to his hometown, and assists the people by teaching them martial arts. Before the political revolution he is inspiring to complete, he is forced into conflict with the Manchu governor. Finally, he triumphs and 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
The film was released on VHS as early as 1993. It was released on DVD in February 2000 by Crash Cinema Media under the title Shaolin Master Killer. In 2007, it was released on DVD by Dragon Dynasty as The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. It has also been released on Blu-ray as of 2 March 2010 from Vivendi Visual Entertainment.
According to the Harvard Film Archive, the film is an "exhilarating rendition of the legendary dissemination of the Shaolin martial arts" and an "absorbing account of [an] initiation into the vaunted Shaolin style, ... depicted here [as] an inner voyage of discovery."