Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow (1978)

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Jackie Chan finally found success after a string of failures with Lo Wei and it took the legendary Yuen Woo-Ping to unleash Chan as the star he was meant to be.

Chien Fu is an orphan who resides in the back of a martial arts school run by Master Hung. While Hung takes care of Chien Fu, it is when Hung goes away for a competition that Chien Fu finds himself bullied on numerous occasions by assistant teachers Li and Lian. Chien’s life is forever changed when he finds an elderly beggar being harassed by the members of Teacher Chui’s kung fu school. When the beggar and Chien return to the school, the beggar learns of Chien being the school’s “punching bag” and offers to help.

The beggar is actually Pai Chang Tien, a master of the Snake Fist style. When Chien Fu uses a defensive method Pai taught him to defend himself against a magistrate’s son, he is ridiculed by Li and Lian. However, when Pai offers to teach Chien Fu the Snake Fist style, Chien gains the self-confidence he has long yearned for. However, when Chien learns that Shang Kuan Yin, an expert in Eagle Claw, is after Pai and a spar proves to be too much for Chien, the young student sees his cat killing a snake and decides to develop a new martial art style that will combine Snake Fist and the newly formed Cat’s Claw to save his master from potential death.

Jackie Chan had nearly reached the end of his rope as an actor due to several films with director Lo Wei, who attempted to make Chan a more serious style action hero in the vein of Bruce Lee. Chan was contacted by Yuen Woo-Ping, who had known Chan from their days as stuntmen in the industry. Yuen was ready to make his directorial debut and despite the haters, recommended Chan to Ng See-Yuen, the founder of Seasonal Films. The end result is a much needed break from the serious nature of kung fu films and adding doses of comic relief that work well with this film.

The film could be said to be a precursor to The Karate Kid as one of the film’s focuses is on the eventual teacher-student relationship between Chan’s bullied student Chien Fu and Simon Yuen’s beggar Pai Chang Tien. Chan and the elder Yuen (the father of the director) have such great chemistry together that it feels like Pai is the closest to a father Chien Fu would have while in his brief appearance, Master Hung, the one responsible for taking in the orphan, acts like a protective big brother with Dean Shek’s Li and Peter Chan’s Lian as the so-called jealous brothers who proceed to bully Chien Fu in Hung’s absence.

Legendary Korean kicker Hwang Jung-Lee is great as the main villain Sheng, whose Eagle Claw is quite deadly when he’s not unleashing his kicks. His kicks are so powerful that during their climactic fight, Hwang accidentally knocked out Chan’s tooth. Hwang is joined by Hsu Hsia and Roy Horan as his henchmen. Horan’s character calls for him to pose as a priest and had minor beats of comedy mixed in with his performance. Horan, a protégé of Hwang’s in martial arts, has a nice fight scene against Chan that employs Chan using his newfound style.

Speaking of the fight scenes, director Yuen and co-star Hsu, assisted by the trio of Brandy Yuen, Eagle Yuen, and the unrelated Corey Yuen, did a fantastic job with the action. From the opening fight between Hwang and the late Fung Hark-On to the Chan-Hwang showdown has some great shape forms mixed in with excellent acrobatics and kicks. While Chan gets to showcase his acrobatic skills and mesh it well with Snake Fist and Cat’s Claw, he does provide some comic relief with portions of the fight scenes. His comic chemistry with Dean Shek in his intro scene works as well and this proves to be the beginning of what would be a superstar career for Chan.

Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow is the first true Jackie Chan film in terms of meshing his brand of comedy and martial arts action. The chemistry between him and the supporting cast is exciting to watch and the choreography is really crisp and brings some fun into the mix.

WFG RATING: A

A Seasonal Film Corporation production. Director: Yuen Woo-Ping. Producer: Ng See-Yuen. Writers: Ng See-Yuen, Clifford Choi, and Siao Lung. Cinematography: Cheung Hoi. Editing: Poon Hung.

Cast: Jackie Chan, Simon Yuen, Hwang Jung-Lee, Hsu Hsia, Roy Horan, Dean Shek, Peter Chan, Charlie Chan, Tino Wong, Fung King-Ma, Fung Hark-On.

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