Snake In The Eagle's Shadow (1978)

Directed by
One of the first kung fu comedies, and one of the best
Reviewed by Simon on 2021-09-25

Chien Fu is an orphan with a simple mind and kind heart who is regularly bullied at the kung fu school where he works as a cleaner. One day he encounters an old beggar fighting with a gang of thugs and tries to help... he isn't much use, but the beggar is a master so they ultimately triumph. Chien Fu gives his new friend food and a place to stay, and in turn he is taught a few moves. He is sworn never to show them in public though, because the beggar is the sole surviving master of the Snake Fist and is being hunted by the ruthless Eagle Claw school, determined to kill anyone that practises Snake Fist.

SNAKE IN THE EAGLE'S SHADOW follows a very familiar template but is notable because it was the directorial debut of Yuen Wo-Ping and the first box office success for Jackie Chan. Chan had been working with/under Lo Wei for years but had consistently failed to win over audiences with the budget Bruce Lee image Lo Wei kept trying to build for him. Lo Wei had basically given up on him by this point and so was happy to let Ng See-Yuen's Seasonal Films borrow him for a pair of kung-fu comedies.

It's immediately obvious how much Lo Wei had been holding Jackie back, and how in tune he and Yuen Wo-Ping were - how hungry to show what they could really do. They may not have had much of a budget to work with but they had passion and dedication to spare. The fight choreography, the camera work and the training sequences manage to inject a breath of fresh air into the familiar story and Jackie was finally able to stop copying Bruce and be himself, the mischievous and charismatic clown.

The result is a fabulous display of talent that stands as an exemplar of its genre. Chan's physicality is extraordinary and Hwang Jang-Lee is a formidable opponent for him. Audiences responded well to the film's mix of action and comedy and it prepared the ground for their follow up Drunken Master to become Golden Harvest's most successful film, finally turning Jackie Chan into a star... much to Lo Wei's chagrin, no doubt.

Although DRUNKEN MASTER was more successful I think SNAKE IN THE EAGLE'S SHADOW is the better film, a well balanced mix of kung fu, training and comedy anchored by a relationship between Jackie and Yuen Siu-Tin that seems very genuine. Jackie's soft hearted character is actually likeable, and even Dean Shek manages to add something to the film - though I guess this is probably the character that set the template for his cringeworthy performances in too many other films in the genre.

It turns out Lo Wei wasn't wrong about Jackie Chan's star potential - he just wasn't the person to bring it out.

Special mention to the soundtrack, a psychedelic mix including excerpts from Jean Michel Jarre's Oxygene that gives the film a unique character.