Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow (1978)

Jackie Chan stars in the movie that finally made him a genuine star, after years of relatively insignificant progress. We take a look at the movie which many argue is better than his follow up-Drunken Master. Is this possible?

Cast

Jackie Chan, Simon Yuen, Hwang Jang-Lee and Roy Horan all star in this 1978 martial-arts classic.

Plot

Hwang Jang Lee enters the beginning as Shangkuan. He is hunting down a practitioner of the snake style kung-fu. For some ambiguous reason, Shangkuan must kill all of those who practice it, as they are sworn enemies against his eagle claw style of kung-fu. Starting a great fight, he needs to move on to catch the other members that are left in the world. He knows that someone is in hiding and must be exposed!

Jackie Chan plays Chien-fu. Chien is an orphan who was taken in by one of the many kung-fu schools (Hung-Tai) in the local area. He is a cleaner, although when new potential business for the school is on the cards, he is used as a human punchbag to further its cause. Time and again he is used and often runs away from the school, to cry somewhere quiet before returning. One day while gathering fire wood he sees an old man being beaten up by several men in the street. Disgusted by this, he comes to his aid-only to be set upon himself. This old man however, seems to know how to maneuver himself and Chien through the maze of combat, in comedic and painful fashion, a neat sequence!

Returning home with the old man, Chien offers him a cup of tea, before being summoned again by the school senior (Li) for another fisticuff episode. Returning, now black and blue, the old man is puzzled as to what has happened. The cook of the school explains that Chien is used as a human punchbag, whenever the school senior desires it. The old man then starts a game of “catch me and my soup bowl if you can”, which puts a smile back on Chien’s face! Later on, the old man is nowhere to be seen, but has left a note with instructions for Chien. What can these instructions mean, can our hero decipher them and find out?

Action

The first bit of action starts with Hwang Jang Lee fighting the snake master. This fight is fast and furious. Plenty of action with snake, eagle, taekwondo and even a little bit of tiger kicking are on show here. Switching to the old man, he comedically deals with a few people after having money problems.

Now Jackie Chan gets involved. Not really knowing what he’s doing here, he gets some help from the old man, including how to use a long pole. Both painful and funny.

Chien finally gets his break…the old man begins to teach him! Here Jackie Chan goes through tumbling and footwork, while learning the snake technique. My favourite scenes are when he has to do crunches while his teacher is sitting on him and when he is taking eggs from various poles using his snake style. Why oh why don’t they still make movies like this anymore?!!

Meanwhile, when Chien returns to the school, trouble ensues, as the local champion arrives to make a mockery of the absent master’s absence. When returning, Chien informs him (Hung) what has happened and they both set off to find the so-called champion, who has disrespected his school. Here Mr Hung has to take on an opponent that is simply outclassed. Palm and heel strikes to the ribs and abdomen as well as good old fashioned solid backfists prevail! When the champion steps up for his turn, Mr Hung gets more than he bargained for. Now Chien steps in, disobeying the old man’s proviso’s from earlier. Chien takes the champ to town delivering intelligent, probing attacks while working his way in and around him, until finally, he has him where he wants. Jackie Chan makes a statement of intent!

When he runs into Shangkaun, the two battle to see what the other is made of. Jackie Chan is excellent here. Never giving up and persisting several times when any mere mortal would have quit. However, once again Hwang Jang Lee shows why he is so highly respected. This is all just child’s play to him in this scene!

Next the old man faces another pursuer. In a clearing in the forest the two go at it, with the old man not holding back this time. Back and forth they go but who emerges victorious?

The final fight occurs when the old man goes at it with Shangkuan, only for Chien to interfere. Jackie Chan shows off his whole repertoire of moves acquired through the movie up to this point, coupled with his unique fighting method! This fight is great and Hwang Jang Lee must get a mention here, as the fight wouldn’t have been that great, had he not injected his devastating style, speed and flair into the mix! The triple kick he does on Chan is a prime example of his athletic prowess. An awesomely energetic action spectacle!

Summary

This movie is renown as being a classic, no debate about it. Great action and comedy is shown in abundance here! Is it better than Drunken Master? This is a tough question and a debatable one at that. As much as I enjoy this, I would say no. Simply that Drunken Master was just that much more dynamic and engaging. The standard was set with “Snake” and perfected with Drunken Master. That is how good these movies are! Snake In the Eagle’s Shadow definitely deserves to be in every martial arts fans’ collection.

Trivia

  • This was Jackie Chan’s breakthrough movie.
  • Hwang Jang Lee was the only person to turn up for work for Yuen Woo Ping during a strike in Korea. His loyalty earned him a role in this movie.

Film Rating: 9.5/10


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Amardeep Sidhu is a (very!) long time martial arts movie fan. On watching "Enter The Dragon", at five years old, became fascinated with Bruce Lee and by eight was hooked on the main man (Jackie) CHAN's movies! He has studied Taekwondo as his primary base, as well as mixed shaolin kung-fu, southern praying mantis, wing chun and capoeira. He is a keen movie watcher with a serious appreciation for fight choreography!

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