Friday, December 02, 2005

Snake in the Monkey's Shadow (1979)

AKA: Snakefist vs. The Dragon

Premise: A young fishmonger who dreams of learning kung fu finally gets his chance after finding work at a kung fu school. But his teacher is killed by a pair of snake style experts and he must get revenge with the help of a friend who teaches him monkey style.

Review: Although the film obviously attempts to mine more than just the success of Jackie Chan's Snake in the Eagle's Shadow (1978), this film bears its own distinction for displaying some terrific snake-style kung fu versus a wicked drunken monkey technique.

John Cheung is Lung, a fishmonger who spends more time than he should dreaming of learning kung fu. After arriving late to the village's leading family with a shipment of old fish, Lung is beaten and sent packing by the Yan's eldest brothers. He eventually gets his revenge after talking Ho (Hau Chiu Sing), a local kung fu master into allowing him to join his school. Lung is relegated to cleaning the place but proves his devotion by practicing everything he has seen performed by the other students at night. Ho finally takes Lung on as a student and teaches him drunken boxing.

While showing off his skill to Ting Sang (Pomson Shi), a monkey style expert, Lung humiliates the two Yan sons which only causes their father to seek a fight with Teacher Ho. This time Ho beats the father and his two sons which only adds more fuel to the flames. Yan hires two fighters who kill Ho and even kill Ting Sang who was an old adversary. Lung is beaten, but survives to train further by combining the drunken boxing and monkey style to defeat the duo's formidable snake style.

Snake in the Monkey's Shadow is simply old fashioned kung fu goodness. The story is indistinguishable from countless other Hong Kong films of the '70's, but the actual combat stands out. John Cheung plays an affable protagonist who ends up performing some rather entertaining training sessions and combat. The highlights include his sparring with a revolving set of poles while hopping around on tables and his final battle with the two villains. At one point, he bites the hand of Charlie Chan and throws him over his head with his teeth still clenched. He flips over and deals Chan a death blow, all while biting the guy's hand. Its a brilliant, if seemingly ignoble piece of choreography.

While some of the early action is somewhat dull, the creativity of the action scenes increases as the film reaches its conclusion. Pomson Shi, who is relatively unknown does a great job performing monkey kung fu. The whole significance of these combat styles which is set up at the beginning of the film is that monkey style beats snake. Since Charlie Chan, who plays the lead villain loses with his snake attacks, he comes back with screen veteran, Wilson Tong to double-team his old foe. Tong really shows off his experience as fight choreographer in these scenes towards the end.

There is nothing new to be seen, but with fast and furious old school action and a lot of great talent going into this production, its a safe bet that most classic kung fu fans will enjoy this title.


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