In this classic 1978 martial arts movie, the protagonist San Te, after participating in a suppressed revolution against the Manchus, flees to a Shaolin Temple for refuge. While at the temple, he learns martial arts, as well as an expanded consciousness regarding the use of force and violence. The heart of the majority is an extended training sequence at the temple, wherein San Te advances at a record pace, learning the mentality of a Shaolin monk along with the physical skills. Ultimately, San Te leaves the temple, helps liberate his people, and founds the 36th Chamber of Shaolin, devoted to teaching laypeople kung fu.
The movie is one of the great Hong Kong kung fu films of the 70s, and, while ostensibly a 'historical fiction', is perhaps a more interesting study for the importance of the film itself. The cultural footprint of The 36th Chamber is massive, and many of the elements it introduces are now tropes of the genre. In particular, the film had a massive impact on the Wu Tang Clan and defined much of their aesthetic (including the title of their debut album). An American History, popular culture, or ethnic studies class could use this film and the Wu's album as an examination of globalization, global urban poverty, and the lengthy and continued connections between kung fu films and hip hop. The RZA has said 36th Chamber was the first movie where he truly saw himself and his experiences as a young man living within oppressive and corrupt circumstances. What about this story allowed it to transcend its setting? What are the positives and negatives to kung fu films becoming so popular in Western culture? What role does appropriation play? What is it about some pop culture (specifically, kung fu films in the 70s and hop hop today), that allows it to transcend national boundaries?