The 36th Chamber of Shaolin ★★★★½

The other movie about a young man from humble roots who wants to join a rebellion against an oppressive occupational force, loses his loved ones, flees his hometown, learns special skills from a monastic order of an old religion, builds a special weapon, then leads an attack against the oppressive regime.

There's something very appealing to me about the highly structured training sequences. It's got the thrill of a sports movie as we watch Gordon Liu learn basic balancing and movement skills up through absolute mastery of forms, but it also has a very clearly delineated "leveling up" system like in a video game as Gordon passes the challenge of each chamber. The challenges themselves are absurd, sometimes resembling medieval torture (the task of carrying heavy buckets of water with inward pointed knife blades tied to the pupils' elbows comes to mind). Gordon Liu is a superstar, here lovingly directed by his adopted brother Lau Kar-leung. Every cutaway to his teachers wryly smiling at his mastery is priceless. The mythic framing gives it the quality of one of Rudyard Kipling's "And that's how the ____ got its _____" stories. For example, "That's how the Wu-Tang Clan got its album name."

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