Master with Cracked Fingers (1979)

masterwithcrackedfingers_1Master with Cracked Fingers [刁手怪招] (1979)
AKA The Cub Tiger from Kwangtung, Little Tiger from Kwantung, Little Tiger of Canton, Snake Fist Fighter, Ten Fingers of Death, Marvellous Fists

Starring Jackie Chan, Simon Yuen Siu-Tin, Kwan Yung-Moon, Chiang Kam, Tien Feng, Shu Pei-Pei, Chen Hung-Lieh, Dean Shek Tin, Hon Gwok-Choi, Ma Chien-Tang, Kwan Chung, Tai San, Hui Gam, Tiu Yun-Ban, Cheung Sek-Aau

Directed by Gam Yam

Expectations: Curious.

On the general scale:
twostar

On the B-movie scale:
twohalfstar


Master with Cracked Fingers really has no place in the spotlight along with Jackie Chan’s proper films, but I thought it would be worth a look for a couple of reasons. It was a film always readily available during Jackie’s late-’90s period of high fame in the US, so there’s bound to be thousands of copies out there littering thrift store shelves. I also kicked off my Jackie Chan series with his first starring role, The Cub Tiger from Kwangtung, and since that’s the movie that’s getting cannibalized to make this one, I thought it would be an interesting endeavor to see how it was butchered, and perhaps if the added scenes made it better or worse. I enjoyed that film for what it was, but there was definitely room for improvement.

The changes made for Master with Cracked Fingers are interesting, and they are clearly made in the effort of transforming an early-’70s serious kung fu movie into a late-’70s kung fu comedy. In this way, the two films seen side by side are something of a quick and dirty history lesson on just how much the genre had changed over the eight years in-between the two releases. Now, instead of Jackie’s character merely practicing kung fu on his own or with his sister, he is trained by Simon Yuen himself! This is facilitated by a few added scenes at the beginning, with Jackie as a child of about eight or nine years old. Too poor to afford proper kung fu lessons, he enlists the help of an old beggar who promptly asks Jackie to meet him in the forest in the middle of the night. And what does he ask Jackie to do once he gets there? Take off all his clothes and jump into a burlap sack full of snakes and other scary critters, of course! Yikes!

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Drunken Master (1978)

drunkenmaster_2Drunken Master [醉拳] (1978)
AKA Drunken Monkey in the Tiger’s Eyes, Drunk Monkey

Starring Jackie Chan, Simon Yuen Siu-Tin, Hwang Jang-Lee, Lam Kau, Linda Lin Ying, Dean Shek Tin, Chiang Kam, Max Lee Chiu-Jun, Yuen Shun-Yi, Fung Ging-Man, Tino Wong Cheung, San Kuai, Hsu Hsia

Directed by Yuen Woo-Ping

Expectations: High.

fourstar


To set the scene: Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow, Jackie Chan’s first big hit, was released in March of 1978 and sent a shock wave through the Hong Kong martial arts film world. It became one of the most successful Hong Kong films of all time, out-grossing even the mega-popular Bruce Lee films. A mere seven months later came Drunken Master, the second of Jackie’s collaborations with director/choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping, and it did 2½ times as much as Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow did at the Hong Kong box office. Boom! Not only was Drunken Master a mega-hit, it solidified Jackie Chan as a major player in Hong Kong film, it made drunken-style kung fu “a thing” in movies, and it further expanded the kung fu comedy genre that Yuen and Jackie had officially kicked off with Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow. Drunken Master is one of the hallmarks of ’70s kung fu cinema, and with good reason. It’s amazing.

The one aspect that’s lacking in Drunken Master is the story, but it is a testament to the strength of every other aspect that even though this flaw is very noticeable, it never detracts from the experience. In many ways, it’s kind of a re-hash of Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow, starting with a mountaintop fight scene where Hwang Jang-Lee takes on a fighter and mercilessly kills him with his amazing leg work. But instead of being a negative point, the re-hash is actually more of a distillation. Drunken Master takes everything that worked perfectly in Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and perfects it even more, leaving out all the rest. Which, honestly, is that film’s relatively average kung fu revenge plot. “Who needs it?” they must have said, and I agree.

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Shaolin Wooden Men (1976)

Shaolin-Wooden-Men_bcfa0519Shaolin Wooden Men [少林木人巷] (1976)
AKA 36 Wooden Men, Shaolin Wooden Men …Young Tiger’s Revenge, Shaolin Chamber of Death, Wooden Man

Starring Jackie Chan, Kam Kong, Doris Lung Chun-Erh, Chiang Kam, Cheung Bing-Yuk, Miu Tak San, Liu Ping, Li Min-Lang, Weng Hsiao-Hu, Miao Tian, To Wai-Wo

Directed by Lo Wei (per the credits)
Actually directed by Chen Chi-Hwa

Expectations: Moderately high.

threehalfstar


I’ve always enjoyed Shaolin Wooden Men. I generally stayed away from most of the early Jackie films during my youth, because I had grown tired of wasting money on sub-standard prints of sub-standard movies. But Shaolin Wooden Men was always one of the good ones to me, and going back to re-watch it was a great experience. I liked it more than ever, and it’s baffling to me that this one doesn’t have a better reputation. But people’s perceptions are what they are, and I won’t try to break down why they didn’t like it, I can only comment on why I did. And really, there’s so much here to like.

Shaolin Wooden Men opens in thrilling fashion featuring five masters of Shaolin sparring with Jackie Chan in a darkened room, lit only by candles. They spar for a good long while, showcasing different animal-style kung fus (and no, that doesn’t mean a messy kung fu with grilled onions, In-N-Out fans), and when Jackie defeats them all he tries his luck with the chamber of the wooden men. There’s just something about these wooden men that makes me smile, but they have the opposite effect on Jackie in this scene. He tries his best, but his best barely gets him past the first couple of wooden men. He is defeated… but then he wakes up! He is but a lowly, mute student of Shaolin, still early in his training. He has far to go before he will reach the chamber of the wooden men.

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New Fist of Fury (1976)

NewFistOfFury_GoldenSwallow_SC36New Fist of Fury [新精武門] (1976)
AKA Fists to Fight

Starring Jackie Chan, Nora Miao, Chan Sing, Henry Luk Yat-Lung, Yi Ming, Suen Lam, Lau Ming, Cheng Siu-Siu, Hon Siu, Han Ying Chieh, Chiang Kam, Liu Ping

Directed by Lo Wei

Expectations: Moderate.

twohalfstar


New Fist of Fury opens with Lo Wei helping Nora Miao and the remnants of the Ching Wu school to flee Japanese-occupied Shanghai, by way of a boat to the also Japanese-occupied Taiwan. That might seem like it’s not the best place to find refuge, but Nora Miao specifically wants to go there to show the Japanese what for. There they meet a delinquent thief (Jackie Chan) who mistakenly steals Bruce’s nunchaku, thus getting himself wrapped up in the middle of a Chinese vs. Japanese martial arts struggle.

During my super passionate Jackie Chan years, I always did my best to avoid his early films. I got burned a couple of times and there’s nothing worse for a budding, teenage JC fan than wanting to kick back and watch Jackie kick ass only to kick back and watch Jackie in a two-minute cameo. So I mostly stuck to what I knew was great and left it at that. I do remember seeing New Fist of Fury before, but that’s about all I remember about it. Clearly it didn’t scratch that undying Jackie itch back then. But now I am a different person, and I realize much better what to expect out of different directors and martial arts periods, so I’m able to appreciate these early films for what they are instead of what they aren’t. New Fist of Fury is never going to be Armour of God, so there’s no reason to be disappointed when it’s not.

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