Snake and Crane Arts of Shaolin Review
There's a wealth of martial arts material online. Be it on Youtube, the web pages belonging to various martial arts clubs, official martial arts federations or simply fan pages run by people with a liking for Bruce Lee, the Cobra Kai or ninjas, there's an enormous amount of martial arts resources on the Internet. Do a search on karate, aikido or jeet kune do and you will be presented with everything from grading syllabi, katas and probably close to a thousand different books titled Deadly Secrets Of The Orient or somesuch. And of how much use is all this information. Well, actually, not a great deal of use at all, particularly given the rather scathing attitude held by martial arts teachers towards books, pamphlets or anything else that doesn't involve years of training, lots of hard work and the carrying of several minor injuries. None of which, with the exception of Finnegan's Wake, will you get from a book.
That's a roundabout way of saying Snake And Crane Arts Of Shaolin is as much nonsense as a good many other Jackie Chan films but is one to have even martial artists scoffing at its plot. It features Chan as Hsu Yin Fong, a young man who arrives in a city and reveals, almost as soon as he gets there, that he is the possessor of the Snake And Crane Book, a martial arts manual that describes a kung fu style so deadly that many would kill (and have done) to know its secrets. As Hsu Yin Fong explains to those interested in the Snake And Crane Book, which, given its importance in the film, is almost everyone, it was written by eight masters of different styles of kung fu, all of whom disappeared shortly after documenting the secrets of Snake And Crane Style. As the one who is now in possession of the book, Hsu Yin Fong is suspected of having killed the eight Shaolin masters but he is keeping a secret. Hsu is brandishing only a fake book with which he will draw out the real killer, a man with a unique mark. It doesn't take long for word of this book to spread and for Hsu to face the killer, each man skilled in the Snake And Crane art of kung fu.
The actual book of the Snake And Crane art is but something to hang the story on, being a detective drama with a kung fu twist. That doesn't stop there being all manner of martial arts battles throughout the film but Snake And Crane Arts Of Shaolin isn't half as interesting as might a full-blown mystery or Jackie Chan martial arts comedy. Knowing in advance that the film will last for ninety-six minutes, the audience will be aware of convention and will know that the fighters he faces until the film's final ten or fifteen minutes will be but chaff to the kung fu wheat of the killer. A trio of masked and be-hatted villains crop up throughout the film but, even then, they offer nothing like a sense of mystery, hiding themselves away for most of the film's running time only, in the manner of the swordsman in Raiders Of The Lost Ark, to fanny about a lot before being slaughtered, nothing more, then, than a brief interlude in the fight between Hsu Yin Fong and the film's real villain, Chien Tse. And come the hour, come the deserted patch of scrubland on which many, many martial arts fights appear to have been filmed. Like a lot of these Jackie Chan films, the sun seems to rise and set several times during the final battle so long and pointless is it, with it carrying the suggestion that martial arts is no more deadly than had Hsu Yin Fong and Chien Tse waved cardboard swords at one another. That the entire film seems to be settled with Hsu being thrown a couple of love balls to use successfully in battle offers Chan a couple of moments of comedy but they come far too late in the day.
Of course, if you like Jackie Chan, this will be much more entertaining a film than I've suggested here. Too late am I realising that perhaps I ought to have left many of these films well alone from their place in the DVD Times inbox. However, Snake And Crane Arts Of Shaolin isn't a film to attract those who like the occasional martial arts movie and who, after Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle, are looking to delve a little deeper. There are plenty of better films out there, not least any of the Bruce Lee films or The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin, not to mention Chan's own Police Story, Armour Of God or Drunken Master. This, on the other hand, is very much an also-ran.
Snake And Crane Arts Of Shaolin is yet another in Hong Kong Legends' list of Ultrabit releases and, like the others, it's nothing really special. A-Bit-Above-Average-Bit might have been a better way to describe this but that probably doesn't fit on the cover in one line and doesn't sound quite as snappy as Ultrabit. There's plenty of damage to the print with stray vertical lines being seen in a couple of key fights and, in the film's finale, a few shots that looked to have been spliced in from a Super 8 print of the film, so great is the jump between the browns and greys of the rest of the film and the retina-snapping colours of these shots.
Other than that, though, this is actually a little bit better than the average Hong Kong Legends release. There's an adequate amount of detail, the film looks fairly sharp throughout and the disc does a good job of handling the many night time scenes. But it's damned by the amount of print damage. One doesn't doubt, though, that Hong Kong Legends have done some restoration of the print - there is a feature on the forthcoming Spiritual Kung Fu that makes clear just how much work was required on that release and there's no reason to assume this wasn't any different - but maybe not quite enough and maybe Hong Kong Legends didn't source the very best print they could.
The are a selection of three audio tracks, Mandarin DD5.1, English DD5.1 and what is billed as the Original Mandarin Mono. I'm happy to take the lead from others who are more knowledgeable on these things than I, particularly as to what is original and what is not but all three sound fine. There is the common problem when comparing a dub track to the subtitles in that one can get lost in between what is in one and what is not in the other but both look to at least go along with the story without any noticeable lapses in the plot. There is, as with the damage in the picture, some noticeable background noise but I didn't really notice it after a while. Not that it had gone away, more there's not really enough of it to become really annoying. Otherwise, there's plenty of snap to the sound effects, the dialogue is clear and the whole thing sounds fairly reasonable. Finally, there are optional English subtitles.
The only bonus features are a set of Trailers (or Further Attractions), including Police Story, Police Story 2, New Police Story and Meals On Wheels.