Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow was my first encounter with martial art Jackie Chan style, and that movie really got me hoooked! Although Drunken Master was a greater success (and is also perhaps a better movie, with more intense training and fights) Eagle’s Shadow is the first of its kind, and it set the standard for modern martial art films to come.
Jackie Chan plays Chien Fu, an orphan who has been taken in by the local kung fu school and is working as their janitor. He is frequently used as a punchbag whenever the school’s rather inefficient teachers need to show off their students’ skills, and is bullied by everyone. But despite what they put him through he remains a sweet, considerate guy, and when he witnesses some rival kung fu teachers bully an old man he interferes although he knows he is defenseless against their skills.
The old beggar man (brilliantly played by Siu Tien Yuen, who also played Beggar So in Drunken Master) proves to be anything but a beggar. He is the last grandmaster of a kung fu art known as Snake’s Fist but since an evil master of Eagle’s Claw is obsessed by killing off anyone who practices Snake’s Fist he has disguised himself to hide from his enemies.
Jackie Chan is absolutely brilliant in this movie, in a role that has been copied by more young actors than I care to count – but was never surpassed by any of them. You can really tell from everything he does that this is stardom in the making; he has that sweet charisma that leaves no one untouched, and that makes him so outstanding. He teams up incredibly well with Siu Tien Yuen and though we have seen the same combination many times since (old master, young bullied boy) it’s never actually been made any better.
There are some really good fight scenes in this movie, especially the final scene where – for a while – you actually believe that Jackie may get defeated. His opponent is the stronger one, but Jackie shows he has more skills than even his master realises. He comes out of the fight looking really rough, but still with the charm that is so lovable and touching.
Considering Jackie’s talent for this part I’m really looking forward to see what he can achieve in the new Karate Kid movie. No doubt he will just as brilliant as the master as he once was as the student!
- Jackie Chan talks kung fu fighting (bbc.co.uk)