Dragon Fist (1979)

dragonfist_4Dragon Fist [龍拳] (1979)
AKA Dragon Hero, In Eagle Dragon Fist

Starring Jackie Chan, Yen Shi-Kwan, Pearl Lin Yin-Zhu, Nora Miao, Hsu Hsia, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, James Tin Jun, Eagle Han Ying, Ko Keung, Wang Kuang-Yu, Chui Fat

Directed by Lo Wei

Expectations: Way low.

threestar


Dragon Fist opens like many kung fu films do. After a kung fu tournament to determine the greatest martial arts school in the region, the Tang San Clan is named the winner. The celebration is cut short by the villainous arrival of the leader of the Champion Clan. He wasn’t able to make it to the tournament, so he declares Tang San’s win false until he’s able to best his Snapping Kick technique. Jackie’s master puts up a valiant attempt, but the Snapping Kicks of Champion Clan prove too much, and he is mortally wounded. And if you assume that the next plot point is that Jackie Chan vows to exact revenge on Champion Clan, in the name of his master, then you’d be exactly right.

But what’s really interesting about Dragon Fist is that it after this clichéd opening, it largely diverges from and subverts the traditional martial arts plot. Wang Chung-Pin’s script (his only screenwriting credit) is exceptionally well-written, giving us a group of interesting characters all with their own desires and motives for the things they do. Don’t mistake this for some deep arthouse drama, but it’s definitely got a lot more going for it than I expected a late-game Lo Wei film to have. Dragon Fist is the last film that Jackie Chan made for Lo Wei before his two-film loan to Seasonal, and it’s easily the best film that Lo Wei directed Jackie Chan in (not counting The Killer Meteors, which features Jackie but is actually a Jimmy Wang Yu movie).

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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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Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow (1978)

Snake_In_The_Eagle's_Shadow17Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow [蛇形刁手] (1978)
AKA Eagle’s Shadow; Eagle Claw’s, Snake’s Fist, Cat’s Paw; Snaky Monkey

Starring Jackie Chan, Hwang Jang-Lee, Simon Yuen Siu-Tin, Dean Shek Tin, Fung Hak-On, Tino Wong Cheung, Peter Chan Lung, Hsu Hsia, Charlie Chan Yiu-Lam, Roy Horan

Directed by Yuen Woo-Ping

Expectations: Very high.

threehalfstar


Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow is one of the most important and most influential kung fu films of all time, not only giving Jackie Chan his breakthrough hit, but also introducing the world to a style of kung fu film that had never really been seen before. Shaolin Wooden Men may have gotten us closer to a true Jackie Chan film, but Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow is the real deal. Free of Lo Wei’s authoritarian control, Jackie and Yuen Woo-Ping craft an incredibly enjoyable kung fu romp. I don’t think it’s a perfect film, but the positive aspects are overwhelmingly great, so they easily overshadow whatever problems I had with the film.

Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow is the story of the struggle between the evil Eagle’s Claw clan and their systematic murder of every practitioner of the Snake Fist style, but it’s also the story of a young man named Chien Fu (Jackie Chan). He’s a lowly kid that scrubs the floors of his martial arts school, without reward and without ambition to do much else. The current masters taunt him by purposefully stepping in chalk and tracking it all around the dojo, making him work needlessly. But when he befriends an old beggar (Simon Yuen), his life is forever changed as he learns Snake Fist style from the old man. Given the tools to make something of himself, Chien Fu — and Jackie Chan himself — rises to the occasion and shows us all what he’s truly capable of.

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