Master 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
On the general scale:
On the B-movie scale:
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!
You might be wondering where Jackie’s parents are in all of this. His mother is nonexistent in the story (even in The Cub Tiger from Kwangtung, if I remember right), but Jackie’s father is killed in the opening scene of each film. It’s a different scene in each version, though, and this change is the basis for most of the new scenes in Master with Cracked Fingers. Now there is a devious, gray-haired villain who is pulling the strings of the previous film’s ultimate villain! Chen Hung-Lieh killed Jackie’s father in Cub Tiger, but the new villain does the deed in Master with Cracked Fingers. The basic similarity in plot allows them to reuse a good majority of the Cub Tiger footage, while just adding whatever was necessary to make the film feel richer and closer to Jackie’s Seasonal films. But the inherent problem with just splicing in a new villain is that it completely robs Chen Hung-Lieh’s character of his purpose. He’s now just another superfluous henchman and his scenes carry none of the menace that they did in Cub Tiger.
There are also new characters for Dean Shek and Chiang Kam to play, who were both rather memorable supporting performers in Jackie’s Seasonal films. Dean Shek’s character is especially worthless to the plot, with only the barest hint of a thread to the main story tying him in. This doesn’t matter so much, as I like him and they’ve written an entirely new scene between him and Simon Yuen that features a full fight. It isn’t a great one, but it contains some good moments (such as using the Popeye theme over a comedic moment) and some not-so-good moments (Simon Yuen farting in Dean Shek’s face). The fight also strangely includes references to conga dancing and Muddy Waters, which I enjoyed on WTF factor alone.
My favorite additions to the film are the ones most obviously spliced into the previously shot footage. The audacity with which the edits were made is quite entertaining. Instead of simply watching some of the fights from Cub Tiger from Kwangtung play out, the new director Gam Yam inserted quick shots of Simon Yuen cheering Jackie on or shouting pointers to him. It’s ridiculous, but I got a real kick out of them cutting to Simon Yuen hiding in a bush mid-fight — a bush, I should note, that looks nothing like the surroundings in the footage from Cub Tiger. Honestly, the whole film is kinda audacious like this, and it actually makes it a lot more watchable than some of the Lo Wei-era Jackie films like To Kill With Intrigue.
The entirely new end fight and the new training sequences had to be shot with a Jackie double. I’m not sure it’s known who this double was, but he does a good job of approximating the Jackie movement style as best he could. I can imagine not recognizing he wasn’t Jackie if I saw this as a kid. It also helps that he never shows his full face on-screen. He’s always looking away from the camera, bowing in shame, wearing a blindfold… you get the idea. If Jackie had died young, I’m sure we would have seen a lot more Jackieploitation movies from this guy, and I’d like to think that they would’ve given him a name like Jeckie Chan or Jackie Chin, similar to the naming conventions for the Bruce Lee clones. I’m not sure how many “clone” movies were made of action stars while they were still alive, but this is definitely the first Jackie clone movie, and it’s also the first film to call Jackie’s character Jackie Chan! Of all the movies I thought may have spawned this trend, I never expected the actual answer to be this one!
The real question is whether this cut-up version is better than the legitimate version of Cub Tiger from Kwangtung, and honestly they aren’t all that much different. Master with Cracked Fingers has a thick exploitation vibe that makes it nearly impossible to shake how cobbled together it is, although maybe it’d be less apparent if you hadn’t seen Cub Tiger already. Depending on your taste in kung fu movies, this might be the better one to go for over the original version, but the original version is definitely the better made film. You do get a lot more bang for your buck on this version, though, as Cub Tiger is pretty serious and straightforward. Ultimately, you’ll have to decide for yourself, but I thought Master with Cracked Fingers was a fairly enjoyable hackjob movie.
Next up in this chronological journey through the films of Jackie Chan: it’s Jackie’s first film for Golden Harvest, The Young Master! That won’t be till November, though, as soon we venture deep into our 4th annual Horrific October! See ya then!