Snake in the Eagle's Shadow (1978)
Directed by Yuen Woo-ping
UK DVD cover
The film starred Jackie Chan, Hwang Jang Lee and Yuen Woo-ping's real-life father, Yuen Siu Tien. Straight after this film, Yuen Woo-ping directed Drunken Master. Released in the same year, it also starred Jackie Chan, Hwang Jang Lee and Yuen Siu Tien, and followed a similar plot.
The film is also known by the title Snaky Monkey.
Prior to Snake in the Eagle's Shadow, Chan had worked for director Lo Wei who wanted to make him into the new "Bruce Lee" in films like New Fist of Fury. However, those films yielded relatively poor box office returns. When producer Ng See-Yuen decided to make a comedy with Chan as the star, the concept did not initially meet with approval from the film distributors. However, Ng and Chan persevered and together with Drunken Master, the film launched Jackie Chan into national stardom.
The combination of comedy, martial arts, stunts and acrobatics had been done before, in Lau Kar Leung's 1975 film, Spiritual Boxer. However, the release of Snake in the Eagle's Shadow heralded a new direction for Hong Kong action movies.
Ng See-Yuen and Yuen Woo-ping checked over many actors for the part of the old, eccentric, wandering Kung Fu master, before Ng suggested casting Yuen's own father, Yuen Siu Tien. Yuen would continue to reprise the role of Beggar So several more times before his death in 1979.
Chien (played by Jackie Chan), an orphan adopted by a kung-fu school, is overworked as their janitor and abused by the kung fu teachers as a walking punching-bag. Chien befriends an old beggar (Yuen Siu Tien) by offering him a meal and a place to stay. Unknown to Chien, the old beggar is actually the last surviving master of the Snake-style of kung fu. The old man is on the run from the Eagle Claw clan, which is viciously killing off all of the rival Snake-style kung fu masters. Seeing that Chien is being abused, the old man teaches Chien the art of snake style which enables one to avoid an opponent's attacks.
The old man leaves the school to find a better hiding spot. After being abused once more, Chien later finds him and the old man agrees to give him more lessons, on the condition that he does not call him "sifu" ("master"), since they are friends. The real reason, however, is to keep Chien's connection with him secret from his pursuers.
Chien practices the lessons and learns to avoid being hurt by the school's bumbling teachers. When the school is invaded by the Mantis school, to everyone's amazement Chien easily defeats their master using the snake style. Unfortunately, one of the passing wanderers who witnesses the fight is the high master of the Eagle Clan, who recognizes the style at once and decides to tail Chien.
Chien meets the Eagle Claw clan master, who inquires about the old beggar. The Eagle Claw master lies, saying that he was a student of the old beggar and asks Chien to help him find the old man. As a show of 'proof', he easily fends off Chien's attacks. Chien realises that his Snake-style fighting is no match for the style practiced by the stranger, and thus creates a new style from watching his pet cat kill a cobra.
Eventually, Chien unwittingly leads the Eagle Claw master to the old man. In the duel, Chien merges his "cat style" with snake style to finally defeat the Eagle Claw master and his minions. Chien announces that he will call his technique "Cat's Claw", but the Old man suggest that he give the technique the name "Snake in the Eagle's Shadow".