Old school cool kung fu where fists and feet collide in savage choreography and balletic brutality.
Twenty years ago two rival kung fu masters met on a beach, determined to engage in combat, each endeavouring to prove that his style was superior. In the ensuing battle crane style not only lost to snake style but the crane master seriously injured his leg. Even now the injury has left him troubled but he is determined to continue to promote the crane style as sifu in his kung fu school; both his son and daughter prove to be adept proponents of the art. Dragon (Dragon Lee) has learned his skills at the snake fist school. With the blessing of his own sifu, the victorious master from all those years ago, he sets out to establish his own academy, teaching snake fist. He is also looking forward to marrying his fiancée. The rivalry between the schools has been maintained for many years but the crane school seems intent on victory whatever the cost and whatever nefarious means they can devise to instigate their goals – ferocious fisticuffs are bound to result from their unsavoury plans. This aggression contravenes the snake fist principle of engaging in combat only when necessary and without dire consequences to any opponent, an ethos rejected wholesale by those from the crane school. Matters can only end in trouble. Can Dragon’s snake fist style create a sense of balance between bitter rivals and can his marriage possibly have a future amidst the turmoil?
There are many elements that make The Dragon’s Snake Fist so distinctively of its time – a traditional 1970s kung fu film – and it is a pleasure to see this released on DVD. Many Hong Kong productions were made outside of Hong Kong and here the Korean/Hong Kong duality is reflected in the acting, crew, locations and style. Making full use of its cinematography, it has also been shot in a very wide format, which helps establish not only the compositional elements of the film but also reflects the territory around the location as well as the immediacy of the action. And what action there is: dynamic, fast and acrobatic with choreography that often features one person (usually, as the title suggests, Dragon) fighting against a group of combatants, flitting between the oppressors to vanquish their attacks. Sub-plots comprising kidnap plans, false identity and a deliberately curtailed armistice abound in a film which has a succinct running time, but makes full allowances for such narrative devices amidst all the action. Indeed there is also enough time to depict use of weaponry, particularly from the crane-style’s sister as well as that school’s shockingly effective use of acupuncture needles in attacks that they practice on wooden figures.
This DVD of The Dragon’s Snake Fist is pure 1970s martial arts action and is unashamedly – gloriously – old-school. Also included on the disc is a recent interview with Dragon Lee (Dragon Lee? They wanted the next Bruce!) , recalling his past martial arts films as well as his recent success on Korean television.