After a string
of flops with director Lo Wei, future HK megastar Jackie
Chan was loaned out to Ng See Yuen's Seasonal Films to headline
the company's latest martial arts project. With Chan a seeming
box office liability, no one could have anticipated the
huge success that Snake in the Eagle's Shadow would
Chan plays Chien Fu, a down-on-his-luck
orphan who does odd jobs for the local kung fu school. Chien
Fu soon meets Pai Chang-Tien (Simon Yuen), a so-called beggar
who is, in actuality, a master of the snake fist style.
So why the beggar disguise? Well, it seems Beggar Pai is
on the run from Shang Kuan-Yin, an eagle claw master played
with dastardly aplomb by Korean martial artist Hwang Jang-Lee.
While in hiding from that
nutjob, Pai teaches Chien Fu the intricacies of the snake
fist style in a series of hilarious, but grueling exercises
(i.e., finger pushups over lit joss sticks, no thanks!).
Chien Fu soon learns that the eagle claw technique has an
effective counterattack for every single snake fist move,
so he invents the "Cat's Claw" style to beat Shang
for good. Before the inevitable duel to the death, there's
eome fighting between rival schools, the appearance of a
treacherous Catholic priest, and some possible cruelty to
animals (I highly doubt PETA sanctioned the fight between
the cat and the cobra!).
The plot is nothing new; in
fact, a majority of the cast would return in virtually the
same roles in another film with a similar plot: Drunken
Master. But even twenty-five years later, Snake in
the Eagle's Shadow still holds up rather well. The fight
scenes are nowhere near as frenetic or dangerous as Chan's
later efforts, but there is a certain charming sprightliness
to the action that wins over the viewer's affections. And,
perhaps the most endearing aspect of the film is the teacher-student
bond formed between Chien Fu and Pai. Simon Yuen acquits
himself nicely in a role that would soon become iconic.
As the sifu, Yuen mines his part for all its worth, showing
a wide range in what amounts to little more than a stock
character. And hey, that Jackie Chan guy ain't bad either.
(Calvin McMillin 2003)