Twilight Time's new Jackie Chan double feature Blu-ray serves up a pair of early career highlights from 1978: Snake in the Eagle's Shadow and Drunken Master, released about seven months apart and both directed by legendary fight choreographer Yuen Woo-ping. Featuring similar casts and master-student subject matter, both films also provide the first real glimpse at Jackie's successful and appealing brand of physical comedy that would dominate almost every future film in his long and prolific career.
Snake in the Eagle's Shadow, undoubtedly the rougher of the two, follows strong but inexperienced Chien Fu (Chan) in his thankless job as the janitor of a kung fu school; perpetually used as a punching bag by the students, he eventually befriends kindly old Pai Chang-tien (Yuen Siu-tien, the director's father), who turns out to be a master of the ancient Snake Fist fighting style. Chien gradually learns to stand up for himself---while avoiding blatant use of his new fighting technique---but Pai faces his own challenge in the rival Eagle Claw clan, led by deadly Sheng Kuan (Hwang Jang-lee). Featuring a kinetic string of fight sequences during the last 45 minutes, no shortage of awful dialogue, over-the-top characters, plenty of lo-fi stock sound effects, and one particularly harsh animal fight, Snake in the Eagle's Shadow is a standout production that kung fu fans should thoroughly enjoy.
Drunken Master switches gears a bit, as Wong Fei-hung ("Freddy Wong" on the English dub, played by Chan) is an obnoxious woman-chaser who already knows how to fight. After an unfortunate encounter with his unknown cousin and ass-kicking aunt (Tong Jing and Linda Lin), not to mention beating up a young hooligan and humiliating his irritable teacher Kai-hsien (Dean Shek), Wong's strict father enlists the help of Beggar So ("Sam Seed" in the dub, played by Yuen Siu-tien) to tighten his son's discipline. Not surprisingly, Wong flees his punishment several times, running into trouble before finally committing to Beggar So's brutal and unorthodox methods of training which, as the title suggests, involve lots of alcohol. Much like Snake in the Eagle's Shadow, we see a progression of fighting styles and Chan's character combines several of them to create a new technique and overcome a deadly opponent played by Hwang Jang-lee (here known as Yim Tit-sam or "Thunderfoot", master of "The Devil's Kick"). Plenty of story elements are recycled here, but the result is still another entertaining and irresistible slice of classic kung fu cinema.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in their original 2.35:1 aspect ratios, both 1080p transfers have been sourced from recent Sony restorations and generally look quite impressive. Image detail and texture are obvious standouts, as these films were largely shot outdoors in natural light. The ultra-wide compositions, horribly cropped in so many VHS releases over the years, allow plenty of room for the fights and action sequences to breathe without feeling cramped or shaky. Colors look great overall and, though Drunken Master leans a bit on the greenish side at times, any perceived problems may be due to the film stock or other source-related issues. Although both films have been squeezed onto one disc (roughly 3 1/2 hours of total content), I didn't notice any compression artifacts or other digital eyesores such as edge enhancement, aliasing, or excessive noise reduction. These are simply rock-solid transfers that fans should be happy to have together on Blu-ray, even if most of the good news about this release ends here.
DISCLAIMER: The still images and screen captures on this page are decorative and do not represent the Blu-ray under review.
Columbia/Tri-Star's 2002 DVDs releases of Snake in the Eagle's Shadow and Drunken Master each included the original Cantonese and dubbed English tracks in Dolby Digital Mono, while Twilight Time's Blu-ray adds a third option for both films (Mandarin 1.0) with bumps to DTS-HD Master Audio. Not that it makes much of a difference, mind you: all six tracks are extremely lo-fi and muffled from start to finish, with a very cramped presence and noticeable distortion on the stock sound effects no matter which option you choose. Dialogue is also thin with very little depth or dynamic range. Drunken Master also has two more strikes against its audio presentation: the English dub is not the original (it's a newer one that fans complained about in 2002 as well), and the Cantonese/Mandarin audio is still incomplete and periodically switches back to English. This can be extremely distracting.
And if those problems weren't enough for die-hard fans, the only subtitle options here are dubtitles for both films.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
The interface is plain but perfectly functional, with quick loading time and the bare minimum of pre-menu distractions. This one-disc release is packaged in a clear keepcase with some of the worst cover artwork and design elements I've seen to date. As expected, it also includes a Booklet
featuring photos, vintage promotional artwork, and the usual essay penned by Julie Kirgo.
Aside from the usual Isolated Music and Effects Tracks
for each film (likewise in DTS-HD 1.0 Master Audio), we get a full-length Audio Commentary
for Drunken Master
that's carried over from Columbia/Tri-Star's 2002 DVD
. Featuring Hong Kong film expert Ric Meyers and author Jeff Yang, this is a very informative track with a lot of infectious enthusiasm...but it's unfortunate that nothing else is included for either film, especially given the excellent Eureka Blu-ray of Drunken Master
released earlier this year.
Snake in the Eagle's Shadow and Drunken Master are important films in the early career of living legend Jackie Chan (not to mention Yuen Woo-ping, who makes his directorial debut here), both for their outstanding fight scenes and the first glimpse at his brand of appealing comedy. This is a great double feature for obvious reasons, as the similar cast and subject matter---not to mention their release dates, only months apart---share a certain bond within Chan's narrow resume. Twilight Time's Blu-ray finds the boutique label somewhat out of their element, as several aspects of this release (audio, subtitles, extras...even the cover artwork) are much less impressive than expected. Still, these 1080p transfers are quite good and the "two for one" factor helps to alleviate sticker shock. Recommended to interested parties...but if you only want Drunken Master, import Eureka's Blu-ray instead.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes, and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.