It starts off shaky, but this classic martial arts film gets better as it goes along. This is credited to the training sequences, which take up almost half of the move & make you invested in the protagonist w/ every ridiculously-awesome chamber. Liu gives a great performance, in both the physical scenes & communicating the conflict between ethics & revenge. All future films in the genre owe something to this classic.
The genre can often suffer from isolating its action sequences as the solo criterion for enjoyment, while retreading hackneyed stories with often burlesque-like acting, relying on camp. However The 36th Chamber of Shaolin is an unusual and exemplary exception offering a motivational plot, heroic yet nuanced acting by Gordon Liu, good cinematography, swift editing and extraordinary fight choreography--Balance & speed.
After much curiosity. I can say that this definitely warrants all the hype it receives. The beginning falls a little flat but it eventually serves as the perfect setup for an epic story of heroism, dignity, and inspiration. The film plays like one long training montage. It works. It's great. It is a journey in itself. It doesn't rely solely on hand-to-hand combat, but instead uses martial arts to tell its story.