Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Movie Review: Master With Cracked Fingers

First up on the Jackie Chan Film Festival schedule is....well, not really a Jackie Chan film. It's more of a "Sam Seed" film with some Jackie thrown in. Master With Cracked Fingers is one of those "Jacksploitation" movies, some miscellaneous Jackie Chan footage spliced together with some other newer footage to end up making some kind of generally incoherent mess.

This one's no different. Most of the splicing this time around features Siu Tien Yuen doing his shtick as the old master who trains the young man in martial arts through comedic torture. He would team up with Jackie in this role in Drunken Master and Snake In The Eagle's Shadow, but here he doesn't ever actually appear with Jackie Chan. Oh, he appears with the character of Jackie Chan, but he doesn't ever appear to have been in the same room as Jackie. Ah, the magic of editing. Instead, we get scenes of the Old Man torturing, er, training a young boy playing the prepubescent Jackie, and then Jackie body doubles the rest of the time. More often, though, there are just quick cuts to him apparently standing just off to the side, yelling things to Jackie like "Fly like a bird!" and "Now, strike!" while cackling to himself.

Oh, and we also get one interminable scene where he takes on a bumbling crime lord. This is a typically bad martial arts comedy scene, with broad overacting, Popeye sound effects (really!) and fart jokes. Yep, the crime lord is finally beaten here by flatulence.

As for Jackie, I don't know how many different film shoots were spliced in here, but there are at least of couple of different styles here. Some of the scenes have Jackie working with his adopted family as a waiter who is harassed by local thugs. His father doesn't want him to fight, but he wants to defend himself using the skills he was taught secretly by the Old Man. His father punishes these attempts with acts like forcing Jackie to put his hands into vats of broken glass (these wounds are of course healed almost immediately). Despite the odd punishments, this section is relatively light in tone, not near the comedic Jackie we would get a few years down the line, but not near the Bruce-Lee-lite style he was originally slotted towards.

Later, the redubbed plotline has the family leaving town, and now Jackie is suddenly a dock worker being harassed by, well, other local thugs, conveniently led by the man who killed Jackie's birth father years before. This leads to a fight on the docks, followed up with the final big confrontation between Jackie and his father's killer. This section veers all over the place in tone - it starts off fairly seriously, then swerves over to a broad comedic fight, and finally gets to a strange section where the fighters agree to wear blindfolds for some reason. Not that it makes a difference; the fight direction really doesn't take any notice of the blindfolds and the fighters act just as if they weren't wearing them at all.

And then finally the surgeon, err, director decides we've reached enough of a running time. The Old Man tells Jackie to go for the kill, Jackie strikes once, and the bad guy falls down. The End.

For the most part, this isn't really a very good film. Most of the fight scenes, particularly early on, are very "posed". Yeah, I know, all fight scenes are posed and choreographed, but in this early Chan effort, you can almost see the actors saying to themselves "now go HERE and DUCK and SPIN and..." as they work to hit all of the marks. The flow just isn't there for me. Things do pick up a bit once we hit the dock fight, with the fight choreography taking a little advantage of the environment instead of just having everyone stand around in a clearing, but you have to get through a lot of junk to get there. And as mentioned above, the big ending fight is more than a bit silly with the blindfold action followed by the overly-sudden ending.

So, all things considered, not a good start. I'm going to give this a generous two stars, but only barely. Next up on the schedule: Eagle Shadow Fist.

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