Story: Hsu Yin-Fong (Jackie Chan) doesn't have an easy life. No matter where he goes he is attacked by fighters of different clans since he
is in possession of a famous kung fu book. In this book eight shaolin monks have fused all shaolin styles into one. Those who possess the book are said to
have extraordinary powers. Since the monks have disappeared right after finishing the book the text is even the more mysterious and precious. Thus, the
Tiger as well as the Black Dragon Clan both want to get their hands on the book by force, but Hsu's martial arts skills are outstanding and so he manages
to stand his ground against his opponents. He also doesn't hand over the book to more friendly parties like the Beggar Clan or the daughter (Nora Miao) of
a shaolin monk, who wants to know what happened to her father. However, it seems that Hsu is deliberately drawing the attention of the different clans. His
intention stays in the dark, but the clans become more and more relentless in trying to achieve their goal and at some point Hsu might not be able to stand a
chance against the overwhelming force anymore.
Review: Why not revisit some of the works from Jackie Chan's early days every now and then, when he was still young and full of energy? The
same year "Drunken Master" came out there was already a decent kung fu flick with Chan in the lead called "Snake and Crane Arts of Shaolin". Here you won't
find that much fun and nonsense, though, but more relentless kung fu action instead. That's in fact pretty unusual. Not only does Chan abstain from his
usual oafishness, his character is in parts even quite merciless. Yes, he even takes one or two lives, although all in all he remains somewhat of an amicable
guy. Besides that the movie is naturally full of kung fu, yet also features a story that has some sort of detective flair about it. But of course you shouldn't
expect too much from the plot.
This kung fu flick is full of odd pecularities. For instance there is Jackie Chan himself, who is constantly wearing make-up around his eyes and therefore would
probably be considered emo nowadays. Apart from that his attitude towards women isn't really complimentary since he doesn't think much of them. Still, he
always remains pretty nice during the fights with them. Nora Miao ("Run Papa Run") is one of the few women who can actually
cut a fine figure during the fights, though. There is only Gam Ching-Lan who gives a convincing performance as well. Especially one scene in which our hero
fights two lightly dressed women is very weak quality-wise and compared to the rest. There are also some other guys who aren't working on an A-level. But
fortunately that is more of an exception than the rule.
Even at the beginning we get a martial arts demonstration that's quite impressive. The finale works on the same level. Chan was already allowed to play a
major part in the choreography and you can actually tell by his moves. There is a lot of acrobatics and as far as possible the environment is also made use
of. Only the comedy is missing. What's particularly striking is that there aren't just one or two brawls which involve several parties but quite a few.
All in all the movie consists of 60 percent fights, meaning that you certainly should be a martial arts fan to be able to find pleasure in "Snake and
Crane Arts of Shaolin". Although there is, as has to be admitted, in fact a story featuring a lot of parties which makes the plot seem bigger than what
we are used to see from such flicks.
The mystery factor of the story is also a nice advantage of the film. The story surely isn't noteworthy, but the guess work considering who is on whose side and why is still quite thrilling. The illustrious characters are also one of the film's strengths, although they never become more than mere caricatures. In technical respects the flick may already look better than Chan's first works, but certainly not as polished and lavishly produced as the works that eventually got him his big international breakthrough. Still, there are a few nice sets and costumes. The dialogues on the other hand really would have needed some more fine tuning, even though this certainly isn't something you would expect from a martial arts flick. Thus, it's excusable.
At the bottom line it can be said that the fights are the big selling point of the film: What else? Yet, sometimes they lack the appropriate pacing and especially in the middle part some of the encounters could have been edited out. Actually, there are several editions where certain scenes where cut and maybe this time this isn't such a bad idea, because a tighter running time surely wouldn't do the film any harm. However, decent to very good fight scenes (at the start and towards the end) make this movie a safe recommendation for martial arts fans. Despite a story above average there can't be thought of a different audience that could appreciate the film, though. Accordingly, it isn't without reasons that this film is rather unknown and even fans should consider to first start watching some better, equally unknown works of chan like "Fearless Hyena" which came out just a year later.