In the early 2000s, Celestial Pictures in HK bought the rights to the Shaw Brothers library of films (more than 760 titles from the ’50s through to the ’90s) and started trickling them out on DVD beginning in 2002, which was about when I was introduced to Asian cinema by HC’s Alison. I caught a couple of them, beginning with King Hu’s wonderful Come Drink With Me — still one of my favourite films — and got hooked, buying a couple of discs from each tranche of films as they were released.
Some of these films are genuine classics, and prior to Celestial’s massive DVD project they weren’t easy to see, unless you caught a retrospective at a festival or found a terrible bootleg copy somewhere.
Nowadays, though, I’m very glad to see that they’ve begun putting them up on the Australian iTunes store to buy or rent. They’ve started with two kung fu classics from a master of the genre, Lau Kar Leung (who recently passed away, sadly.)
The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978) pares back the familiar story arc of the martial arts picture to its core — the training scene — and sets the film within the hallowed walls of the Shaolin Temple. It stars Lau Kar Leung’s protégé and frequent collaborator Gordon Liu (Lau Ka-fai) in his most recognisable role. Its sequel, Return to the 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1980) swaps the seriousness of the first film for a comedy, as Gordon Liu’s character seeks to learn Shaolin’s secrets by stealth.
If you’re into martial arts cinema and you haven’t seen these two, you really should check them out. Particularly given how easy it is: there’s no hunting through boxes at DVD stores (though that has its own attractions) or long delays waiting for packages from overseas necessary!
Here are the two links to iTunes:
(And yes, I know, I haven’t written reviews for these two yet despite the number of times I’ve seen them over the years. I’ll get right on it!)