Snake in Eagle's Shadow (1978)

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Released 27-May-2003

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Martial Arts None
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1978
Running Time 92:37
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4,5 Directed By Yuen Woo-Ping
Studio
Distributor

Sony Pictures Home Entertain
Starring Jackie Chan
Yuen Siu -Tien
Hwang Jang-Lee
Dean Shek
Roy Horan
Fung Hark-On
Lung Chan
Wong Ching-Lei
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI Box Music None Given


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
Russian Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.40:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.40:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Italian
Spanish
Arabic
Czech
Polish
Portuguese
Russian
Turkish
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Jackie Chan's biography makes for very interesting reading. Following the death of martial arts legend Bruce Lee in 1973, the search was on throughout Asian countries to fill the void left in Hong Kong cinema; to find an actor who could both display the same discipline of spectacular martial arts abilities and also inspire growing worldwide audiences to the same degree. A young aspiring Chinese music, dance, and traditional martial arts student named Jackie Chan answered the challenge and went on fill that void and become the undisputed leader in the genre. But rather than just emulating Lee's style, and thus living forever in his shadow, Chan developed his own style of acting and filmmaking, steeped not only in spectacular martial arts choreography and stunts, which he always bravely insisted on doing himself (often times to his peril), but also infused with his own brand of slapstick comedy born of Chan's love for the Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd legacies. The end result has been a career spanning a seemingly endless catalogue of high-energy and highly entertaining films, firstly in Hong Kong and then in Hollywood. And Chan's success is not only limited to his performances as a martial arts actor/athlete either, but also as director and producer too.

    The two 1978 films featured in this DVD package, Snake In The Eagle's Shadow and Drunken Master, are cited as the films that effectively launched the careers not only of Jackie Chan, but also of martial arts choreographer and director Yuen Woo-Ping, who would go on to inspire a generation of action film-makers including, amongst others most recently, the Wachowski brothers and Quentin Tarantino. To put these two films into context, note that before 1978 Chan had starred in a series of commercial flops for another director, Lo Wei. Wei's Kung Fu films were not successful mainly because they took themselves far too seriously and, as is now obvious to us with 20/20 hindsight, this was not the right vehicle for Chan. However, when Chan was "loaned out" by Wei to young respected choreographer but first-time director Yuen Woo-Ping in 1978, the films featured on this DVD were the result. These two films were a phenomenal success for both actor and director and the rest, as they say, is history. Both of these films are important films if you are interested in seeing how the careers of Jackie Chan and Yuen Woo-Ping took off, and it is great to see them both released now as a double-pack DVD in Region 4.

    The plot of Snake In The Eagle's Shadow is rather complicated, with a lot of characters, and it all gets rather confusing at first. But, to some extent, who really cares too much about the intricacies of the plot, just so long as the story is at least semi-entertaining and produces enough would-be adversaries to fight the main stars in different combinations and guises. And in this regard, the plot is successful.

    The back-story is about the ancient and warring Chinese Kung Fu schools of the Ching Dynasty, going back to the time when the deadly Eagle's Claw school had virtually eliminated all other rival martial arts forms, other than the Snake Fist school. A particularly evil Eagle Claw master, Lord Sheng Kuan Yi-yuan (brilliantly played by Hwang Jang-Lee) is determined to personally eliminate all remaining members of the Snake Fist school once and for all. This does not bode well for that school's last practitioner, Grandmaster Pai Chang Tien (played by the Hong Kong Kung Fu legend, real life father to Yen Woo-Ping and real-life mentor to Jackie Chan, Yuen Siu-Tien). Chang Tien decides to go into hiding as an old man. Meanwhile, we are introduced to Chien Fu (Jackie Chan). Fu is a nobody daydreamer at the Wa-hu Kung Fu school. He is treated very badly by the school's master, Teacher Li (Dean Shek), and so seems destined to live out his life as Li's "walking punching bag". That is, until one day when Fu stumbles across the scene of what he mistakenly thinks is a defenseless old man being set upon by a group of thugs from a rival school and so he bravely leaps to the old man's defense. Fu and Pai Chang Tien become friends and eventually the Grandmaster teaches him the art of the Snake Fist school, which turns out to be a handy skill to have in this town, as not only is there the aforementioned major feud going on between the Eagle Claw and Snake Fist schools, but also numerous other minor feuds going on between several lesser Kung Fu schools, as each vies for the privilege of being selected by the local Magistrate as the school of prestige to train his fat and slobby son in martial arts. And so the story is set. It's confusing, what with all the rival clans and rival fighting styles and a million characters, but you'll soon get into it. And hey, if you do lose track of all the characters, then just forget the plot and sit back and enjoy all the fighting choreography - you certainly won't be bored!

    The most amusing aspect to this film is the number of different rival Kung Fu fighting styles it sets up. If you thought that all Kung Fu styles were much of a muchness, then noo, think again! It is fascinating to learn that (nearly) all of the different kung fu fighting styles presented in this movie are in fact genuine fighting styles and not - as you might be easily tempted to believe - made-up. In this movie we are introduced to the "Snake Fist" style, the "Eagle Claw" style, the - wait for it - "Praying Mantis" style (don't know about this one!) and then finally, Jackie Chan's own invented variation, the "Cat's Claw combined with the Snake Bite"! It's a riot. While all these different animal fighting styles are humorous to watch for the uninitiated, the humour of the styles themselves is outdone by the humour of the accompanying sound effects in this movie, with very obviously dubbed and over-exaggerated swooshing and chopping sounds to accentuate each fighters' movements every time one of them so much as pivots his wrist slightly!  But the best thing about this movie is that pretty much each and every fighting style is indeed genuine and is choreographed differently according to its own established kung fu principles, as it should be. And we have in this film numerous different combinations of fights between the different styles. Wow. No wonder it took 4 different martial arts directors to make this film.

    If you want to know what Jackie Chan and Hong Kong cinema is all about, and why it holds so much charm, then you simply must have a look at Snake In The Eagle's Shadow. This is classic martial arts slapstick comedy.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The video transfer is somewhat soft and grainy, due to the source print, but it does also display ample resolution and detail and so is quite pleasing.

    The presented aspect ratio of this DVD is the full theatrical ratio of 2.39:1 and it is 16x9 enhanced.

    We have all seen some shocking video transfers of these old Hong Kong films in the past and so you might be expecting yet another shocking transfer for this DVD. Well, the good news is that this DVD transfer has been sourced from a remastered print and the result is eminently watchable. Of course, the film was shot on a shoestring budget 25 years ago and these old Hong Kong films have usually not been preserved well, so you can't expect miracles with the new DVD transfer. As expected, there is visible film grain throughout and the transfer is riddled with all manner of minor film artefacts (see below). But despite an overall softness to the resolution, the degree of detail on offer here is quite pleasing, evidence that the remastering process has been successful. Sure, focus does wander and background resolution is sometimes found to be lacking, but these are source issues. We could also be picky and note that shadow detail is lacking in some scenes too, but to a large degree shadow detail is not a material concern for this film anyway, as the overwhelming majority of the action takes place in bright daylight exteriors or brightly lit sets. What's important above all these issues is the amount of detail achieved in foreground images with this transfer, making for enjoyable viewing.

    Colour varies a bit but is for the great majority very well balanced. There is adequate colour saturation in most scenes, but the age and quality of the source material means we are prevented from being treated to anything more striking. Black levels are adequate for the job, but certainly not solid. Skin tones are generally OK, however odd scenes highlight some imbalances.

    No material MPEG artefacts are noted. Film-to-video artefacts consist only of the obvious but short-lived telecine wobble around the opening and closing credits. The transfer is largely free of any aliasing issues or any other film-to-video artefacts. Film artefacts are certainly there, as mentioned. They are predominantly in the form of dirt on the print, persistent little film flecks and negative artefacts. The occurrence of these little flecks and scratches is unrelenting throughout the feature, but they are all very minor in scale and so not distracting at all; so much so that after watching the film for about half an hour or so you will probably forget they are there. If you did want to look hard though, you would catalogue several different types of film artefacts, such as fine lines and dirt and various marks on the print (one example is the fine black line running vertically down the print over the old woman for several seconds from 35:36).

    Eight different subtitle language streams are provided on this DVD and I reviewed the English stream in full (while listening to the original Cantonese language track). I found the subtitle font to be clear, easy to read, well placed and well-timed with the dialogue, but I can't comment on its accuracy.

    The disc is single-layered, so there is no layer change to navigate.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The audio is the original theatrical mix, being glorious mono, but we do get a good quality transfer that works just fine.

    There are five audio tracks on offer, all being Dolby Digital 2.0 (mono) mixes at a low rate of 192 Kb/s. The audio tracks are the default English, Cantonese, Italian, Spanish and Russian. Why the English track is set as the default track when the original language is Cantonese beats me. I reviewed the original language Cantonese track.

    I hope your centre speaker is working well, as it will do literally all of the work playing this movie if your Dolby ProLogic decoder is turned on.

    Dialogue quality is perfectly clear in this transfer. Every line is well delivered and the audio transfer cannot be wanting in this department.

    Audio sync is poor, but this is a source issue and not a reflection of the timing of the DVD audio track. Most people expect very poor audio sync of dialogue with the lips when watching a Hong Kong kung fu movie, and this is certainly the case here, even when watching with the original language soundtrack!  It comes across that absolutely no effort was put into the ADR for these films (time means money, right?) and often times it seems there is only ever one take at any given dialogue line before moving on to the next. But rather than being annoying, this somehow just adds to the charm and fun of this particular film genre.

    The music for this film is uncredited, but you will hear a very familiar tune about half way through the film, which is a crack-up. Of course the mono audio transfer does little for the music and sound effects, which all come across as tinny and hollow. And nor is there any oomph to the numerous crashes and bumps (not to worry, body blows could hardly be heard anyway over the sound of the hilariously dubbed swooshing sound effects of the fighting). But still, what is most important in judging this audio transfer is the quality of the delivery of the dialogue and the corny sound effects; on this front the DVD transfer delivers.
   

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

   There are no extras on this DVD.

Censorship

    There is censorship information available for this title. Click here to read it (a new window will open). WARNING: Often these entries contain MAJOR plot spoilers.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This film is already available on DVD in both Regions 1 and 2.

    In comparison to the Region 4 (and Region 1) version of this DVD, Region 2 receives:

    In comparison to the Region 4 (and Region 2) version of the DVD, Region 1 receives:

    So this is not an obvious choice. The Region 2 might at first sound like the preferred version for its extras, but when you look at it objectively, probably the only really meaty extra here is the 14-minute featurette interview with the film's writer/producer, plus a short "Kicking Showcase" featurette with Hwang Jang-Lee. But you have to weigh this up against the loss of the original language track and a cropped 1.78:1 transfer. On the other hand, whilst Region 1 receives the original language track and full aspect ratio (or close enough to it not to matter), this is an NTSC transfer. Personally speaking, I would much rather have the original language track and the full theatrical aspect ratio, presented in PAL..... and I don't happen to care about missing out on one very small scene (lasting only several seconds anyway) involving a staged fight between two animals.In addition, our Region 4 release must be considered the clear preference on pricing grounds, when you consider the great packaging we get with Snake In The Eagle's Shadow and its sequel Drunken Master back-to-back in one affordably priced DVD package. I am calling this a Region 4 winner.

Summary

    Snake In The Eagle's Shadow is a very important film to see if you have the slightest interest in understanding how the careers of Jackie Chan and Yuen Woo-Ping started out. As a mixture of stunning martial arts choreography and slapstick comedy, this is really where it all began and where Hong Kong cinema gained widespread appeal. Given that the film became so influential, it is a must-have in the DVD collection of anyone into the genre. But quite apart from its historical significance, this is simply a great, fun, enjoyable film to watch.

    The video transfer delivers a pleasing image, given the age and quality of the source material.

    The audio is the original mono mix, but is nonetheless quite satisfactory.

    There are no extras.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Sean Abberton (read my bio)
Friday, January 02, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba 2109, using Component output
DisplayToshiba 117cm widescreen rear projection TV. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum/AVIA. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderYamaha RXV-1000. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum/AVIA.
AmplificationElektra Theatre 150 Watts x 6 channel Power Amplifier
SpeakersOrpheus Aurora III mains, Orpheus Centaurus 1.0 centre, Velodyne CT150 sub and B&W DM303 rears

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