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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Snake in the Monkey's Shadow
Snake in the Monkey's Shadow
Xenon // Unrated // October 23, 2001
List Price: $14.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted December 3, 2001 | E-mail the Author
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The Story: Infamous Snake Style master Sia Sa, vows to become the worlds best martial artist. But, when he challenges Monkey Style master Koo, he is beaten badly, ashamed, and vows to get revenge.....Three years later, young fishmonger Liang is beaten up and humiliated by the local, snotty, rich siblings of the Yan family. Wishing he could get even, he goes to the towns martial arts school, a place he has peaked in on before, and begs its instructor, Drunken Style expert- Master Ho, to teach him. His efforts to convince the teacher are null, and he tries to bribe Master Ho with wine, which they both sit down and drink until Liang passes out. Liang wakes up in a field with a cobra staring directly at him, luckily, Monkey Style master Koo is now a hermit living in the area, and he saves Liang from being envenomated. Koo offers to teach him Monkey Style, but Liang decides that any style of martial arts that involves fighting snakes is "too dangerous", so he goes back to try and convince Master Ho. Master Ho eventually relents into giving Liang a job as clean up boy, lackey, janitor. Liang watches the others train and tries his best to mimic the training while he mops the floor and does all the other dirty work.

Even though he is learning from afar, Liang proves himself adept at Drunken Style, so Master Ho takes him under his wing and begins to train him one on one. One day while going to repay Koo for saving him, Liang runs into the Yan brothers again, and this time is confident that he can beat them. He even goes so far as to insult the eldest Yan brothers Tiger and Crane Style, telling him he looks like "a crippled duck". He soundly trounces the Yan brothers, leaving them bruised, bloodied, and angered. The Yan brothers go home and complain to their father, which leads to a further scuffle between Master Ho and the Yan father. Unable to beat Master Ho and punish Liang, the Yan father hires two deadly Snake Style experts, one of whom is Sia Sa, to seek revenge, which they do, and they even defeat Koo when Liang runs to him for help. Now alone, Liang must figure out a way to beat the two snake style experts and get revenge. Could combining the two styles, Drunken and Monkey be the way to do it?

The Film: Snake in the Monkeys Shadow (1979) is a classic animal style film, and it is one of the great formula perpetuators in kung fu cinema. Here we get the same old Style Vs Style motif- with combining styles being the ultimate way to defeat the enemy, you get the reluctant master, the elitist rich family, the young, good-natured guy who gets both humiliated and has too seek revenge first for himself and later for his master. Plus, like so may films of the late 70's, you get the blatant attempt of trying to have a Drunken Master/Snake in the Eagles Shadow style of comedy. But, chop socky kung fu is probably one of the most formulaic genres out there, and what really matters is the fighting, performance, and directing, which is what makes a martial film rise above the clichés in the story. Snake in the Monkeys Shadow has a good reputation in animal style (Monkey Kung fu being the most popular style) genre, but I was pretty lukewarm on it. It's a mediocre kung fu movie until the snake style masters show up in the final twenty minutes, and their scenes make the film rise from mediocre to good. I guess what makes it pale is the story sort of goes nowhere too much. While the fighting is fine, especially the end, the entire middle of the film is just running through the paces, bad comedy, doing the same old routine, with no tension, no bad guy backstory going on until the rich brats and the snake style masters suddenly show up. Something like Mad Monkey Kung Fu (made the same year), while having the same old "loser becomes master kung fu expert and seeks revenge" plot, sets up its villains and heroes struggle much better, and benifits from a better budget as well as master Liu Chia Liang directing.

The cast of Snake in the Monkeys Shadow features regulars like Wilson Tong, from such films as Shaolin Mantis, Shaolin King Boxer, and Snake Deadly Act, who plays one of the snake style masters and co-directed the action. The star of the film is John Chang, who I swear I knew, but couldn't place until I looked up his bio, and instantly realized he was one of Jackie Chan's stunt team, appearing in many Chan films as a thug, lackey, fighter, such as one of the mad bombers in Police Story 2, as well as Winners and Sinners, Project A, and he was also in Master Killer. He makes an okay lead, with a brawnier frame than many kung fu stars, but he doesn't have the comedic chops of Jackie or the intensity of a Gordon Lui. Director Chueng Sam also directed John Chang in Mantis Fists and Tiger Claws of Shaolin and Kung Fu Master Named Drunk Cat, and later co-directed Daggers 8 with Wilson Tong.

The DVD: Xenon's DVD is a bit of a disappointment. Sure its another basically tape mastered transfer, but it is also cut, editing out the scene in which Liang watches a monkey fight a snake and develops how he will beat the snake style masters. Obviously this scene was cut because its a real monkey fighting a real snake, (probably the source Xenon used was a tv edit) but kung fu fans are not the kind of people who usually get offended at this kind of thing. Yes, its harsh, but its a different culture, and the story is badly hindered by this scene being excised. Needless to say if you already own it on vhs, the DVD isnt much of an upgrade. Picture- Another fullscreen, worn out, aged kung fu tape transfer. Other than the usual wear and tear, loss of color and picture softness, the film is way too dark. Because a lot of fight choreography in kung fu films is filmed wide, framing the entire bodies, giving a lot of detail, fullscreen doesn't always hurt too much. You can usually still see the fights, but much of the fighting in Snake in the Monkeys Shadow is close up, making the fullscreen a hindrance. Plus, adding to the mess, is that it is pan and scan, very blatantly, sloppily, further adding to the confusion; it would have been much better just to center the picture. – Because of this lack of picture but mainly the lack of content quality, I have to give it a RENT IT, unless you are a big time kung fu fan. Sound- Usual mono English dub with some slight distortions here and there but more than adequate overall. Extras- 6 Chapter selections and a 15 min feature called Greatest Hits & Kicks, which shows fight scenes from Invincible Obsessed Fighter, Fearless Dragons, and Jade Claw

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