It is difficult to get ahold of a good copy of this film - my version is a pirated copy that I got in college years ago. Why did I go out and hunt down a pirated copy? When I was about 9 years old I would fake sick to stay home from Sunday School and watch Kung Fu Theatre on Sunday mornings. I have seen countless movies, but this one stood out in my memory. So 20 years later I decided I had to have it. I bought a couple of versions, mis-named movies, movies that had the right description on the back of the case, but a different movie in the box, you name it... it was painstaking. I have seen it called Master Killer (obviously that is not this film), I have seen it called Return to the 36th Chamber, The 36th Chamber, etc.
Be careful - there is a Gordon Liu film in which he plays an abbott in the Shaolin temple, that movie sucks. Its "Return of Master Killer" that you want.
Here is a little background on this film. Liu starred in the awesome film Master Killer, where he plays San Te. Its a serious film, and a classic in its own right. The Return of Master Killer really has nothing to do with it. Its how the production company's rename these films that gets this all confused. In this film, a comedy, that Gordon Liu plays a con-man who tells everyone he is San Te. When he is exposed as a fraud, guilt drives him to the Shaolin Temple to learn real Kung Fu. Again, he has to con his way in.
Once in the temple he is punished, and put to work. He is not "taught" Kung Fu, however as the movie unfolds he learns it anyway by observing as he works... where the motions he makes while working become Kung Fu motions. NOBODY ever says it, but this movie has to be a direct source of inspiration for the Karate Kid. There are so many similarities. There are tons of other films that have come and gone that draw upon this great film for inspiration, another that comes to mind is the Jet Li movie Romeo Must Die. During this film there is a fight scene that takes place on some scaffolding where Jet Li uses zip-ties to tie up his opponents... yeah, you can see the original version of that very fight scene on the bamboo scaffolding in Return of Master Killer.
No Kung Fu afficianado should be without it.