The Russians are on a diplomatic mission to Manchuria, led by Colonel Tolstoy (Roy Horan), but not everyone is happy with this new development - in fact, some are highly suspicious of it. Tolstoy meets with the Manchurian authorities, but it turns out that the suspicions are correct, and the Russians are planning an invasion if they can get their hands on documents outlining the country's coastal defences. Meanwhile, Tolstoy's henchmen are causing trouble in a restaurant in town, harrassing a waiter by demanding the best food and wine, which of course the man cannot understand as he does not speak their language; a fight erupts, with the Russians the victors. However, they will not have it all their own way as the government has sent an agent to investigate the secret deals - yet is it a case of too little, too late?
Snuff Bottle Connection, or Shen Tui Tie Shan Gong to give the film its original title, was a minor cult example of the traditional Hong Kong martial arts movie of the seventies, despite not featuring any superstars of the genre, as it won its fans by sheer power of the action. It grew in reputation due to the martial arts choreography it was blessed with, courtesy of Yuen Woo-Ping, who went on to cult status himself as first a local, then Hollywood craftsman. For a change it doesn't have Chinese villains battling Chinese heroes all the way through, but has instead the Russians, complete with dodgy accents in English, as bad guys.
Our good guys, however, are one of those Chinese agents (brought in after his predecessor is killed off by the henchmen) and his con artist brother, with John Liu as the agent Shao-Tun and Yip Fei Yang as the roguish brother Hwa. Hwa has a sidekick of his own, a dynamo of a little boy (Wong Yat Lung) who reminds one of Short Round of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, if Short Round could beat up grown men twice his size. They are first seen successfully pulling a trick to steal some food, and provide the comic relief, such as when Hwa evades capture by his girlfriend's father by throwing apples into the mouths of the old man's heavies. But how will he fare against the Russians, considering Tolstoy has a pair of pistols that he doesn't even need to aim to hit things with? He simply sticks one over each shoulder and fires them backwards without looking!
Oh, those Russians... they have a Manchurian traitor working for them, a general (Jang Lee Hwang) who has been promised a high-up position if the nefarious schemes are successful. He so happens to be an expert martial artist as well, only he uses a fan in his battles for variety, just as Hwa uses a selection of throwing knives. Snuff Bottle Connection (so called because of the antiques that the enemies carry to recognise each other by) seems a bit like two films in one at times, one funny and the other serious, but the action makes up for it, with a scuffle apparently breaking out every five minutes or so. More could have been made of the Russians in these sequences, and Tolstoy barely gets a chance to show off his skills for the finale, which mainly concentrates on the general beating up the two brothers for a ridiculous length of time. There's even room for a couple of tragic death scenes to bring a lump to the throat. Overall, a superior effort with superb, lightning fast combat.
[Soulblade's special edition DVD has a commentary and interview with Horan, a trailer and both Chinese with slightly dodgy subtitles and dubbed English language versions. Those fans wishing to finally get their hands on a DVD of this may find the print scratchy, but it isn't blurry and is perfectly watchable.]