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  Snake in the Eagle's Shadow Father Figure
Year: 1978
Director: Yuen Woo-ping
Stars: Jackie Chan, Yuen Sui Tien, Hwang Jang Lee, Dean Shek, Roy Horan, Fung Hark-On, Chan Lung, Chen Tien Lung, Chen Yao Lin, Chiang Kam, Chien Hsia, Chiu Chi Ling, Hsu Hsia, Wang Chiang
Genre: Comedy, Martial ArtsBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: The proponents of the Snake Fist fighting style used to be numerous until the rival Eagle Claw school made their presence felt, not by becoming more popular but by wiping out the Snake students in a display of brutal, deadly martial arts. Now there are barely any left, but one who does survive is Pai Cheng-Tien (Yuen Siu Tien), an old man whose grey beard and diminutive stature hides a fearsome ability, although he is still on the run from the leaders of the Eagle clan. He makes his living by the charity of others, but what if he were to meet a lowly caretaker, Chien Fu (Jackie Chan)?

What indeed? How about a big hit happened that made Jackie's name, led to the similar Drunken Master by the same team, and paved the way for his later eighties favourites where he became even more inventive? This was not Chan's debut, as he had been slogging away in movies since he had been a child, but it was the film that made audiences sit up and take notice of him among countless other rivals for the crown of successor to the likes of Bruce Lee and Jimmy Wang Yu. His killer move was not so much a bright new fighting style, but the sense of humour that he delivered, and you can see that here.

It wasn't the funniest film he ever made in retrospect, but if you could appreciate broad, easy to get jokes and slapstick then you would understand why Chan was the success he was, as this was evidently precisely the type of laughs the viewers of the late seventies wanted from their comedy kung fu. But that's not to say that it was chuckles all the way, as the actual combat was taken very seriously, as if to show that sure, Jackie could goof around like those classic screen clowns, but he had the skills to back up that behaviour and show that he could tackle a flying kick or fist with the best of them.

The plot here is nothing special, but Chan seemed truly at home in these surroundings, and he had support from an able cast, but also a certain martial arts choreographer who was making his first foray into directing with this: Yuen Woo-ping. You can't mention that man's name in the West now without going on to point out that he was the creator of the fight sequences in The Matrix, but there was a reason he was chosen for that task, and Snake in the Eagle's Shadow was where his reputation as one of the best in the business began. Aware of what people wanted to see, the action was plentiful in this, and has an authentic look to it, not to mention the sense that you were in safe hands.

Chien Fu works at a kung fu school, but has been relegated to the "human punch bag" and general dogsbody who is the butt of everyone's practice when they need a fall guy to try out their moves on. However, he is out one day when he sees Pai being victimised by a gang - not that we're under any illusion that the old man can't handle himself, but the scene proves Chien is a goodhearted soul and worthy of being taught the now-endangered Snake style. At first he gets this tutoring thanks to Pai repaying his kindness by leaving notes around his humble abode, sort of the kung fu equivalent of a Charles Atlas course, and soon our hero can hold his head high as a capable fighter, though this naturally gets him into trouble too what with the Eagle bunch hot on Pai's heels and Chien landed with carrying on his tradition. The climactic fight was so intense that Jackie visibly had one of his teeth knocked out, but if you can ignore the more wince-inducing stuff (like a scrap between a cat and a snake), then there was much to enjoy, not least the French electropop on the soundtrack.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Yuen Woo-ping  (1945 - )

Chinese director whose skill at staging electrifying martial arts has made him one of the most sought after fight choreographers in the world. Woo-ping made his directing debut in 1978 with the Jackie Chan vehicle Snake in the Eagle's Shadow, following it the same year with Chan's hugely popular Drunken Master. His brand of fast-moving martial arts direction was a breath of fresh air compared to the more staid style of many of his peers and until the mid-90s turned in pretty much a film every year, sometimes two or three, including Tiger Cage, Jet Li's Tai-Chi Master and Iron Monkey.

Woo-ping's action direction on his own and others' movies in Hong Kong caught the eye of the Wachowski brothers, who employed him for the kung fu sequences in The Matrix. Ang Lee's huge hit Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon followed, with the two Matrix sequels and Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill all featuring his talents.

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