In his first hit film Jackie Chan puts his charm and dynamic fighting chops on full display as Chien-fu, a simple-minded custodian abused as a human punching bag at a kung fu school until he befriends a wandering beggar (Simon Yuen) who teaches him Snake Fist kung fu for defense. When a murderous master of Eagle Claw (Hwang Jang-lee) shows up knowing every Snake Fist trick while intent on wiping out all practitioners of the style, Chien-fu combines Snake Fist with newly developed Cat’s Claw to take on the Eagle Claw master and his two accomplices. Although DRUNKEN MASTER gained greater attention when released later in the year, this kung fu comedy featuring most of the same cast and crew in a similar plot was the true beginning of Jackie Chan’s ascension to superstardom. Chan, who was still creatively stifled by his contract with producer Lo Wei, was loaned out to Seasonal Films for two pictures and this was their first. As a result, Chan was finally working with talent equal to his own. This included writer and producer Ng See-yuen who had earlier scored the hit THE SECRET RIVALS, action director Yuen Woo-ping making his film directing debut and Korean Taekwondo instructor Hwang Jang-lee, who had already established himself as the genre’s fiercest superkicker in several of Ng’s films. On top of all this talent resides Yuen Woo-ping’s father, Simon Yuen, a Chinese opera and Cantonese martial arts film veteran portraying the iconic, gray-haired beggar and kung fu master who schools Jackie Chan in the ways of Snake Fist fighting. These two actors work extremely well together onscreen, producing brilliant action, comedy and even touching dramatic scenes. Simon Yuen was doubled heavily in later films due to age but performs most of his own fighting action here save for some acrobatics. His tandem fighting with Chan is sublime. Chan incorporates a rhythmic, fast-moving dodging and weaving form of acrobatic sparring that went on to become a trademark element of his screen fighting style. Often combined with physical comedy, it’s something that was still new at the time and undoubtedly explains why this film and its successor DRUNKEN MASTER became so popular with general audiences. It helps that Chan is joined onscreen by many genre talents. The wiry Dean Shek, hamming it up as usual, is there for laughs while Hwang, Seasonal Films executive Roy Horan and co-action director Hsu Hsia make for potent main villains. Golden Harvest regular Fung Hark-on makes an early appearance in a match against Hwang while the underappreciated Tino Wong (THE INVINCIBLE ARMOUR) and future KUNG FU HUSTLE fighter Chiu Chi-ling memorably mix it up as well. The film’s killer soundtrack on the original Cantonese and English dub tracks features music ripped from several popular Hollywood films and synth-pop music songs of the era, most notably “Magic Fly” by Space and “Oxygene (Part II)” by Jean Michael Jarre.
REVIEW: Snake in the Eagle's Shadow (1978),
Dean Shek • Fung Hak-on • Genre: Kung Fu • Genre: Shapes • Hsu Hsia • Hwang Jang-Lee • Jackie Chan • Ng See-yuen • Roy Horan • Simon Yuen • Snake in the Eagle's Shadow (1978) • Tino Wong • Yuen Woo-ping