The Snake Prince [蛇王子] (1976)
Starring Ti Lung, Lin Chen-Chi, Helen Ko, Fan Lei, Wong Yu, Ng Hong-Sang, Wong Ching-Ho, Cheng Miu, Leung Seung-Wan, Lam Wai-Tiu, Norman Chu Siu-Keung, Tsang Choh-Lam
Directed by Lo Chen
Expectations: Excited, but I’m not sure what to expect.
The Snake Prince is easily one of the most unusual Shaw Brothers films I’ve seen. It combines a full-on musical with fantasy and folklore to create an unforgettable film you’ll either love or hate. I love a good musical, so to have one with funky ’70s music, the usual Shaw Brothers feel and a bunch of snake-driven fantasy, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. There’s also a bit of martial art action here and there, but it’s not treated like the fights of more traditional films. They aren’t edited for tension at all, instead there are a lot of long, unbroken takes that allow the physicality of the actors to really be appreciated. But don’t expect anything too exciting in this regard, it’s more like a few sprinkles on top of a donut instead of something more substantial. If you aren’t diggin’ the rest of the movie, the fights aren’t going to be enough to make it worth it.
A small mountain village is in the middle of a severe drought. The villagers pray (via a funky song, of course) for the rains to return so their crops can thrive again. After the opening credits introduce us to the Snake Prince, we return to the villagers, again in song. During this celebration, the Snake Prince (Ti Lung) and his two snake friends (Wong Yu & Ng Hong-Sang) enter the town disguised as villagers. They dance and sing with the humans, and a trio of sisters catches their snake eyes. The Snake Prince is especially smitten with Hei Qin (Lin Chen-Chi), but a trio of men from the village (who I assumed were the boyfriends of the sisters, but they never said they were) run the snake guys out of town. This is where one of the bigger action scenes happens, but it’s more like stage fighting than anything resembling what was occurring in the other films of 1976.
Anyway, the villagers still need water, and it just so happens that nearby Snake Mountain (where the Snake Prince and his friends are from) has a river of unlimited water. The villagers have a rule to never go to Snake Mountain, though, probably because someone did in the past and had an unpleasant experience with the snakes. The more aggressive villagers want to burn the whole mountain down to kill every snake and divert the water to the village. The levelheaded humans argue that this is a bad idea because any fire big enough to burn an entire mountain is sure to burn unchecked through their village as well. Makes sense, right? In any case, the humans need what the snakes have, and the Snake Prince would like a bride. Seems simple enough, but there are bound to be complications in any snake/human relationship.
The Snake Prince embraces the joy and life of the musical, delivering a fun and very entertaining experience. The fantasy elements add a lot to the film, as well, ranging from things as simple as live snakes, all the way to giant snake puppets that stand-in for the Snake Prince and his buddies when they are in their true form. It’s quite a film of its time, and for those that enjoy that sort of thing, The Snake Prince is a Shaw film that I definitely recommend. I wouldn’t say it’s great, but you get your money’s worth, for sure.
Next up in this chronological journey through the Shaw Brothers Martial Arts catalog is Kuei Chih-Hung’s Killers on Wheels. Been wanting to see that one for ages! See ya then!