How Seattle's Scarecrow Video Is Like A Kung Fu Movie

Aug 20, 2014

Matt Lynch works for Scarecrow Video
Matt Lynch works for Scarecrow Video
Credit Joshua McNichols / KUOW

Video stores are dead, they say.

Then how – and WHY – did the Seattle video store Scarecrow Video just raise $100,000 in a Kickstarter campaign?

Cover for The DVD, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin.
Credit Joshua McNichols / KUOW

I asked Scarecrow Video's Matt Lynch to prove the store’s importance - by showing me a great DVD you can't rent or stream anywhere else.

Lynch, a skinny movie nerd (no relation to David), selects The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. "It’s basically the best martial arts film ever made," Lynch says.

In the film, a young kung fu student must prove his worth by surviving 35 tests in 35 chambers. Lynch forwards through some of the scenes, stopping to show me a few of his favorites.

In one, "He has to carry these big buckets of water on a pole across his shoulders," Lynch explains. "But the buckets have knives attached to them so he can’t let them touch the inside of his body."

Scarecrow Video employees have also been tested – perhaps not so dramatically.

First, they had to survive the period when other video stores collapsed.

As we zip through the movie, Lynch interrupts our conversation to point at the protagonist, who is locked in a battle with some spinning wooden cylinders. Each cylinder has a mirror, and he must strike before he sees the flash of reflected candle light.

"I like the way his face contorts when he strikes,” he says. “It’s so cool!"

For their second challenge, Scarecrow's employees had to convince people that Scarecrow offers something you can’t find online – obscure movies like The 36th Chamber of Shaolin.

“Scarecrow is the biggest archive of home video anywhere," Lynch says. "If you use a streaming service that’s great, those are wonderful for all kinds of things, but you’re depending on two giant corporations to make a deal for millions of dollars to determine what they make available to you."

As he talks, the kung fu student duels one of his teachers with a giant wooden pole.

Yesterday, Scarecrow also passed another test. The store raised $100,000 toward becoming a non-profit. "It opens us up to things like volunteer labor, and accepting donations,” Lynch says, “and we can look for grants."

At the end of the kung fu movie, the student has completed all the challenges, in all 35 chambers.

Lynch sums up the movie's message this way: "All that work, and all that dedication, it goes to create something new, something no one could have seen before."

Inside Scarecrow Video from David Chen on Vimeo.

The movie's hero goes on to become master of a new chamber, the 36th Chamber of Shaolin.

"And the reward is enlightenment," explains Lynch. "For him it means physical and spiritual perfection."

Scarecrow Video has undergone its own transformation, from a visionary mom-and-pop operation to a cultural institution. 

Has Scarecrow Video, by striving to become a nonprofit, achieved spiritual and physical perfection? 

Matt tells me not to be silly.

Then, after a moment, he accepts the ridiculous metaphor: "I do think it was a noble goal, and I do think it’s something that any real cinephile would care about."