Also known as “Disciple of Yong-mun”, “Depraved Monk” or “Dragon Force”, this “old school” Korean and Hong Kong martial art movie is directed by Godfrey Ho and stars Bruce Lee-alike, Dragon Lee.
Dragon Lee plays “Dragon Wu”, the best student of the art of “Snake Fist”. Lee studied Taekwondo with friend and actor Kim Tai-chung, who served as Bruce Lee’s double in the final scenes of “Game of Death“. Dragon Lee also studied the Korean martial art of Hapkido under Hwang In-Shik, who appeared with Bruce Lee in “Way of the Dragon“. In his early-twenties, Dragon Lee moved to Hong Kong and starred in numerous martial arts films, often credited as Bruce Lei because he bore a striking resemblance to Bruce Lee. Among Dragon Lee’s many film credits is the semi-documentary, “The Real Bruce Lee” (1973).
Yuen Qiu plays Crane Master Wai’s daughter. Yuen Qiu is an expert of both Chinese martial arts and Beijing-opera skills, learning her skills under the same master, Yu Jim-yuen, as Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung Kam-Bo at the Peking Opera School. In recent years she stole the show as the Landlady of Pig-sty Alley in the smash hit “Kung Fu Hustle”.
The actors Martin Chui Man-Fooi as “Master Wai”, Gam Kei-Chu as “Master Chu Man King”, and Bruce Lai as “Invincible Tiger” (credited as Chang Yi-Tao), all had prolific film careers in low budget seventies kung fu films, appearing regularly in director Godfrey Ho’s movies.
Two rival fighters Chu Man King and Master Wai secretly duel on a beach to decide whose style is superior; Snake Fist or Crane Fist. The loser must leave town and allow the winner to teach their art in peace. Chu Man King wins and Master Wai is left with a crippled leg. Several years after the duel, Chu Man King sends his students across the land to spread his Snake Fist art. In the meantime, Master Wai’s son is practicing hard to make his father’s Crane Fist an unbeatable art.
Whilst refreshing himself by a river, Chu Man King’s best student Dragon Wu is attacked by Master Wai’s son and his gang from the Crane Fist school. When they recognise his Snake Fist style, they capture Dragon and decide to teach him a lesson. Master Wai’s daughter reminds her brother that their father would be displeased if he found out what had happened, and they release Dragon. Dragon continues on his way to his village to establish a new Snake Fist school and to marry his arranged bride.
Meanwhile, Master Wai is still bitter over his defeat all those years ago, being constantly reminded by the injury to his leg. Wanting to discover the truth about his father’s injury, Master Wai’s son sends a fake birthday invitation to Master Chu so he can have a duel with him. Master Chu defeats Wai’s son, and when Master Wai finds out, he is furious. Ignoring his father’s advice, Master Wai’s son decides to take revenge on Master Chu and destroy all the Snake Fist schools.
When Invincible Leopard arrives to help the Crane school, Master Wai’s son kidnaps Dragon’s wife. With matters becoming personal, Dragon Wu sets out to destroy the Crane Fist school.
The film starts immediately with a fight on the beach between the two rival masters. Although it is meant to be “snake versus crane”, the styles look more akin to Hapkido versus Karate. The choreography is from the old school, shot wide with an almost robotic rhythm. There is the occasional jumping kick and cartwheel thrown in, and the fight moves at quite a swift pace. The takes are fairly long compared to modern action movies, which allows the viewer to observe the intricacies of each attack and counter-attack.
The opening credits introduce the star, Dragon Lee, doing his best “Bruce Lee” impersonation! He mixes the typical Bruce Lee style kicks and punches with some acrobatic flurries of his own in an impressive demonstration of his physical abilities and equally impressive muscled physique.
After some brief exposition, there is a demonstration by Master Wai’s son, who defeats two students with some acupressure strikes. Shortly after we get our first taste of Dragon Lee in action. He takes on several opponents at a time with strong kicks and punches. In this sequence, most of his “Bruce Lee-isms” are in the form of the cocky facial expressions pulled when he takes out an opponent.
When Dragon is captured and has his hands bound by his sides, this sets up a fight demonstrating his tremendous kicking ability. The sequence introduces contemporary of Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung, Yuen Qiu, into the action. She moves with the grace and agility that one would expect from a student of legendary Peking opera Master Yu Jim Yuen. Effortlessly gliding from butterfly kicks to sweeps and backflips, Yuen Qiu quickly establishes her credentials as an equal to her male co-star, and it’s really a shame she doesn’t get to display much more of her skills until the end of the film.
Dragon arrives in his village and almost instantly gets into a fight as his “Snake Fist” is challenged. For a style called “Snake-Fist”, this fight consists of Dragon Lee performing nearly all kicks against his opponent’s long fist style, which is apparently “Crane Fist”!
A meeting on a bridge between Master Wai’s son and his two cohorts, with Master Chu and his apprentice, leads to a fight that seems much faster in its execution than the previous scenes. Again, no snake or crane techniques, but plenty of high-kicking action.
When the Crane students take on Dragon’s Snake students, the fighting becomes much more acrobatic, with jumping kicks interspersed with somersaults.
As we head into the film’s climax, Dragon Lee takes on a burly “Bolo-alike”, and multiple foes a la “The Big Boss”. He starts to bring in a few of the trademark “Bruce Lee ticks”, like the nose-thumbing and grimacing as he takes an opponent’s life.
The final fight includes an energetic mix of Shaolin-style and fire breathing. Dragon Lee works his way frenetically through Master Wai’s son, daughter, Invincible Leopard, and eventually Master Wai himself. To keep the choreography from becoming stale, weapons and props including swords, ropes and Shaolin iron rings are incorporated.
Terracotta are one of the few current film distributors in the West making an active effort to bring forgotten old school classics such as “Hero of Shaolin“, “Shanghai 13” and “The King of Fists and Dollars“, to a wider audience.
“The Dragon’s Snake Fist” continues in the same vein, and fans of the preceding releases will enjoy this film too. Dragon Lee has some truly stunning physical skills, and the occasional “Bruce Lee-isms”, that he is almost contractually obliged to perform, always raise a smile. The opening credits even use the theme from “Enter the Dragon” to introduce the star!
Anyone hoping to see “Snake versus Crane” kung fu will be disappointed. However, the action is pretty relentless, with solid kicking fight scenes every few minutes throughout the movie’s 83 minute running time.
The fight choreography is always energetic, filmed wide in long takes so the audience can really appreciate the action. Most of the action sequences throughout the middle of the film only last a minute or two, until we reach the final battle, which works its way through various opponents to over fifteen minutes or so.
If you are a fan of the old school, Bruce Lee clones or Godfrey Ho films, this film is deserving of your attention. It is worth noting that this film is also available via Video on Demand, making it an absolute bargain to view.
- Dragon Lee’s birth name is Moon Kyoung-seok, but he has also been called Keo Ryong, which literally means “Giant Dragon” in South Korea. Bruce Lee’s Chinese screen name was Li Xiaolong. Xiaolong means “Little Dragon”.
- Godfrey Ho is a prolific Hong Kong film director and screenwriter, sometimes considered “the Ed Wood of Hong Kong cinema”. Ho is believed to have directed more than one hundred films. Many of his works are now regarded cult films, being among some of the most unintentionally humorous movies ever created. Ho wrote and directed under different pseudonyms, and has been credited under more than 40 different names during the course of his career.
- Yuen Qiu worked as a stuntwoman in the 1970’s and appeared as one of the martial arts girls who rescues Roger Moore’s James Bond in 1974’s “The Man with the Golden Gun”!
- Godfrey Ho’s films often included the uncredited and apparently unauthorised use of music from “Miami Vice”, Star Trek, Star Wars, Vangelis, Pink Floyd and Tangerine Dream.
Film Rating: 7/10