Sunday, June 17, 2012

HERE'S JACKIE!: Snake and Crane Arts of Shaolin

Snake and Crane Arts of Shaolin
Director: Chi-Hwa Chen
Year 1978

Snake and Crane Arts of Shaolin is a fantastic Lo Wei produced martial arts masterpiece, which allowed Jackie Chan to introduce some of his more famous trademark comedy infused antics with expertly timed and choreographed fight sequences, into the public eye. Though the film was not a box office success in Hong Kong, the expertly performed movie did raise awareness on Jackie’s unparalleled skills and outstanding ability in front of the camera. Chock full of tremendous action set-pieces and an array of diverse characters to populate it with, Snake and Crane Arts of Shaolin is a highly enjoyable martial arts film that presents Jackie Chan on the cusp of greatness.  

The film follows a young martial artist named Su Yin Fong, who both cocky and sarcastic, has in his possession “The Eight Steps of the Snake and Crane”, a manual of techniques that was created by the eight masters of Shaolin. This highly sought after book attracts an abundance of trouble for Fong, yet his highly honed skills and techniques are no match for his attackers. That is until a so-called ally lures him into a trap, forcing a group of newly found friends to come to the aid of Fong which leads to an epic showdown of mega kung fu proportions. With the introduction of an unbeatable shoulder-scarred man on the battle field, can Fong bring this ultimate nemesis to his knees and retain possession of the book, or will the tome of techniques pass on to this great foe? Jackie won’t let that happen… Get him Jackie!

Jackie Chan takes on the substantial role of the young wandering kung fu practitioner Su Yin Fong. He does a tremendously good job in it to. In prior films and later productions, Jackie would play a downtrodden and skill-less vagabond, who with rigorous training and steadfast determination, is able to rise to the occasion and take down the bad guys. In this film, he veers from form and is established very early on as a force to be reckoned with. Fight after fight, Jackie beats the odds and his attackers, leaving you asking the question; when will someone take this guy out? Finally when the film throws in the double cross that leads to Fong’s defeat and capture, we begin to tread on familiar territory where Fong has to rise up against some insurmountable odds and save the day. With this being one of the first Lo Wei productions to let him expand into his trademark antics, his performance proved to be a great springboard into a career that just skyrocketed from this point on.
Helping Su Yin Fong on his journey for redemption is a wide range of interesting characters. Some of the more notable ones are performed by actress Gam Ching Lan playing the role of the spritely and spirited tomboy character of Hong Tu, Kam Kong who takes on the role of the ultimate badass Chien Tse, Nora Miao who plays the seductive and feisty Tang Pin Nhur, and Lee Man-Tai who takes on the role of the crazy old beggar. All of these wild characters and more pop up every so often to give the film a fresh dose of action and antics, making for a film that is quiet entertaining with its robust and varied encounters between the motley group of actors. Each one gives a varied, yet enthralling, performance that ignites the screen when the fists begin to fly and bodies begin to hit the floor. It’s safe to say that this film has enough going for it and enough memorable characters that you’ll stick with it through the end.

Fighting is the name of the game in this film, spanning from close quarters brawls to epic and expansive battles between large groups of combatants. The varying forms of set-pieces give the film a larger than life feel, and each one is delicately thought out and performed with great vigor. Some of the more memorable fights are when Jackie’s character Fong takes on a whole tavern full of patrons, using his masterful skills and playful interactions to take down his attackers. The most enjoyable part about this fight sequence is that it mirrors the fun and creative moments of some of his later films, giving you the impression that this is where Jackie began honing his craft that eventually led to his widespread success.  Another instance of a great martial arts set-piece in this movie occurs when of all the gangs of the movie collide on the battlefield during the end of the film. We’ve got the Tang Clan, the Black Dragon Clan, and the Flying Tiger Clan all vying for the book and duking it out for possession of it. Not only that, but we get to witness Jackie’s character come face to face with the shoulder-scarred man in one epic showdown that’s sure to delight any kung fu fans out there.  
Aside from all of these magnificent aspects of the film, the most interesting thing about this movie is that it features Jackie Chan in a role that isn’t typical to his normal screen presence. Like I mentioned above, Jackie is more of a badass in this film, never having to start from the bottom and train his way to the top, so it might catch a few viewers off-guard when Jackie starts taking down foes right from the start. Another diversion from Jackie’s other film personas is that he is kind of a cocky jerk in this one. He’s a likeable one, but a jerk none the less. I felt that this new approach was kind of refreshing and put Jackie in a different light, one that he’s not normally shown in aside from early miscast American productions. Of course there is a method to his madness in the film, and all is revealed to why he is kind of cocky and bold in his possession of “The Eight Steps of the Snake and Crane”, so the fact that he is kind of brazen in the beginning of the movie makes sense for what his character was attempting to do. In the end, Snake and Crane Arts of Shaolin is a masterfully done martial arts flick that ushered in the early years of Jackie and Lo Wei productions collaborative efforts, making way for a career that would soon explode on to the cinematic scene and give way to Jackie’s star to shine into other endeavors.

Snake and Crane Arts of Shaolin is a remarkable achievement in martial arts filmmaking and it is a great entry in the ever expansive filmography of the legendary action star Jackie Chan. Entertaining at every corner and highly enjoyable, this film has all of the right ingredients to make a compelling story that never lets up until the last fist has flown. The fight scenes are exceptionally realized and the choreography and creativity that went into their creation is shown in every highly energized movement.
Jackie is in top form in this flick, playing a character that is leaps and bounds different from his other iterations, but equally skilled in engaging the audience with his mixture of perfectly choreographed fights and playful antics. The inclusion of a wide spread cast of memorable characters, only adds to the enjoyability of the entire production. Half of the fun is seeing how these interconnecting groups of miscreants interact with each other as the kicks begin to fly and the bodies begin flailing to the ground. If you’re in the mood for an old school martial arts flick that has a healthy dose of a young and cocky Jackie Chan, then give this flick a chance. Snake and Crane Arts of Shaolin is…..

Everyone be quiet.... Jackie's hunting bad guys.

Jackie hates it when kids with fuzzy hats stare at him.

I give up old man. What a weirdo.

Well hello there ladies.

Jackie bows to no man.

Hello! Is anybody there!

What happened to Mr. Nice Guy?!?!


Look at that cute fuzzy head of his.

You are all scum of society!

Jackie Chan is just too cool for school.

Check out my balls.

Damn Grandpa, you're one weird ass dude.

What the shit did you just say about my Grandpa?!?!

I love this fabric... what is it velvet?

Listen Grandpa, we took a vote and it's official. You're a weirdo!

Looks like the entire cast made it to the party.

Let me massage your arm. You're all tense.

Strike a pose Jackie!

Damn! It's the "I'm a Little Teapot" Technique!

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