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Snake in the Eagle's Shadow

Snake in the Eagle's Shadow -

This would be a good movie to kickstart a Hong Kong movie obsession because its combination of high-flying stuntwork, comedy and of course expertly timed fighting helped take Kung Fu movies in the direction that made them even more beloved. While it's not Jackie Chan's first movie, it's the one that evinced his talents at all of the above and it also happens to be the directorial debut of the legendary Yuen-Woo Ping. It's not far from being a Cinderella story: we first see Jackie Chan's orphaned Chien Fu scrubbing the floors at the Kung Fu school where he lives and works, with "works" deserving of quotes since he's also their punching bag. His luck changes when he meets kindly beggar Pai Cheng-tien, who we already know is no mere beggar since he's introduced with an amusing fight scene involving a bowl and chopsticks. To repay Chien's kindness, he teaches him the Snake style of Kung Fu of which he is one of the few remaining masters due to rival clan Eagle Claw and its leader Sheng Kuan's desire to make them extinct. Pai's teachings make Chien make him stronger and more confident, but they also make him a fellow target.

It didn't take long for me to realize that this movie has a lot of fighting, so much so that I wouldn't be surprised if there are more fight scenes than...well, every other kind of scene. This is not a complaint since they're all meaningful and feature some of the best fight choreography I've seen, not to mention clever (and funny) use of everyday objects. The same goes for the equally entertaining training scenes, especially the one where Chien tries to grab a bowl from the top of Pai's head. If that sounds crazy to you, that's the point because the movie is just as intent on making you laugh as it is exciting you, and it succeeds at both. The charisma and comedic timing that made Jackie a star are responsible, but Yuen Siu-tien is no slouch either, who makes Pai memorable in the same ways that Pat Morita made Mr. Miyagi memorable. On that note, their bonding scenes provide the movie with what may be the real secret to its success: its heart. Nonetheless, a good movie like this has villains that are as memorable as the heroes, and it succeeds here as well thanks to Hwang Jang-lee's menacing, moustache-twirling Sheng Kuan as well as Roy Horan's towering, Russian would be-missionary. As fun as the movie is, it's also rough around the edges - sometimes in adorable, but mostly in not-so-great ways - and it doesn't quite reach the heights of Jackie's best or what the Shaw Brothers were up to at the time. I still had a great time and obviously not just because of what's in it that made Jackie a star. Oh, and the version you view may have a different soundtrack from the one I saw, but any movie that uses Jean-Michel Jarre's "Oxygene" more than once is great in my book.

My guy (or gal): Pai Cheng-tien, who is just as good of a teacher as he is a friend. Just don't call him "teacher."