Snake in the Eagle's Shadow (1978) / Action-Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG for violence
Running Time: 98 min.
Cast: Jackie Chan, Simon Yuen, Dean Shek Tin, Hwang Jang-Lee, Roy Horan
Director: Yuen Woo-Ping
Screenplay: Loong Shiao, Ng See-Yuen, Tsai Chi-Kuang
Snake in the Eagle's Shadow is one of the most significant martial arts films to come out in the late 70s, and must-see viewing for all kung fu aficionados. First, it marks the first directorial effort of legendary martial arts choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping, later made famous for setting up the memorable fight scenes in The Matrix and its sequels, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, and Kill Bill, to name but a few of the most popular. (Those who follow such things should note that Drunken Master, Woo-Ping's second feature was released theatrically before this one). Second, it's the first foray by action superstar Jackie Chan (Rush Hour, Shanghai Noon) into the trademark slapstick-laden fighting style that would become a virtual staple in almost every film he's done since. In fact, it can be argued that Snake in the Eagle's Shadow and Drunken Master set the tone for nearly every notable martial arts film out of Hong Kong since.
After 200 years of rivalry, the clans of the ways of the Eagle Claw have all but completely eliminated the society which follows the Snake Fist. The great Snake Fist master Pai has been masquerading as an old drunken beggar, while the fearsome Eagle Claw master is hunting him down, knowing that Pai serves as the last remaining threat to their society. While in hiding, Pai is aided by Chien Fu, a slow but kind janitor in a local martial arts school where he is bullied by the teacher and students, and in pity Pai teaches Chien how to defend himself in the way of the Snake Fist. However, Chien finds he must use his skills sooner than he thought, as rival schools and the arrival of the great Eagle Claw lord puts him in the thick of the deadliest battle in the land.
The plot and storyline are nothing fresh, and in fact, mostly inconsequential to what the real attraction is here: the wonderfully choreographed kung fu action. Even scenes which aren't related to fighting are performed stunningly, such as Chien's lightning-quick movement of rags on the newly cleaned floor to keep the school teacher from messing it up, or when Pai (portrayed by consummate scene-stealer, Simon Yuen) challenges Chien to take a bowl away from him, flipping and contorting his body while never losing his balance or dropping the item at hand. It's truly funny, and in many ways, a beautiful thing to behold, even by today's over-the-top special-effects laden standards.
So if you love Jackie Chan, Woo-Ping's style, or just highly entertaining 70s-style martial arts fare, they don't come any more fun than Snake in the Eagle's Shadow, a perfect companion piece to Drunken Master. For two legends who have done exceedingly impressive work afterward, they've rarely blended everything as satisfying as their first time out.
©2004 Vince Leo