Saturday, October 18, 2008

Movie Review: Snake In The Eagle's Shadow

The Jackie Chan Film Festival continues its slow march towards the 1980's with the film largely regarded as starting the "classic" Jackie Chan period, where he went from a reliable lead or supporting actor to martial arts superstar. And it is a definite improvement over all of the previous films in the festival so far, at least in terms of action scenes. The plot is still one of the standards in the genre - one kung fu school looking to take out another one for some undisclosed reason. Here, each school is identified by the animal it mimics in its style, the Snake-Fist school and the Eagle Claw school. Since Jackie is fighting for the Snake-Fist side, you get a lot of poses like this:

I know nothing about martial arts styles, so I have no idea if any of this "snake fist", "cat's claw", "praying mantis" stuff is at all realistic. But it is at least overdone here, with hissing sound effects for each "strike" of the "snake" (and later, when Jackie incorporates "cat's claw" into his attack, we get yowling cat sound effects). Combined with the general acrobatic style of the fights here, you end up with a fairly light style of martial arts fighting, instead of a more bruising slug-fest or "ultimate bad-ass" type of fighting.

But it can't be denied that the fight scenes are well-choreographed and executed. This was the first film directed by Yuen Woo-ping (The Matrix, etc.), and there's a clear step up in quality from the previous Lo Wei-dominated efforts. The fights are more inventive in their use of props (particularly early on, where an old man defeats a group of attackers with chopsticks and a rice bowl), and everything just moves faster and smoother. There also isn't so much of a reliance on quick cuts to hide things like trampolines and reversed film (although that does show up at the end once Jackie starts jumping around like a cat).

This film also brings back another genre staple - the strange old teacher training the young misfit. Here, we get the "return" of Sam the Seed, previously seen "alongside" Jackie in Master With Cracked Fingers through the magic of film editing. And so we get another training montage, with combinations of torture and odd tasks (grabbing eggs balance on top of poles?). Things sometimes progress a little too quickly (Jackie goes from bumbler to better-than-competent in record time), but it's all pretty standard stuff for the genre.

I'm going to give this one three stars, although we're now hitting more on the "high" three stars instead of "low" three stars. Things are definitely on an up-turn, and for our next films we get a variation of this film but replacing animal styles with wine - the classic Drunken Master.

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