Snake Fist (1994)

Reviewed by Kung Fu Bob O’Brien
October 1, 2015


Kara Hui Ying-Hung • Dick Wei • Lam Ching-Ha • Dick Quing • Lo Wing • Billy Chow Bei-Lei • Alan Chan Yiu-Lun • Chan Ming-Wai
Ngai Hoi-Fung
Yeung Sai-Gwan
Hong Kong
I watched the film via a letterboxed VHS, in Mandarin language with embedded English & Chinese subtitles, with a running time of 1:29:11.
Sometimes you know exactly what you are in the mood to watch, and I found myself longing for some modern-day Hong Kong fight action. I wanted to see something I hadn’t watched before, and the VHS for this film seemed to me like a ‘can’t-go-wrong’ choice. An early ’90s production from the country that elevated cinematic action to levels no one had dreamed possible, and starring Kara Hui Ying-Hung and Dick Wei?! Kara Hui started as a shining star at Shaw Brothers, playing the lead role in MY YOUNG AUNTIE (1981), co-starring in many other films from the studio, including LEGENDARY WEAPONS OF CHINA (1982), and had proved to be effective in non-period films like THE INSPECTOR WEARS SKIRTS (1988), and WIDOW WARRIORS (1990) as well. She’s not only a skilled screen fighter, but a very talented and beautiful actress too. Dick Wei is a tough-as-nails stuntman and action actor, and his resume of films and Hong Kong stars that he’s fought is impressive, including PROJECT ‘A’ (1983), YES, MADAM (1985), MILLIONAIRE’S EXPRESS (1986), DRAGONS FOREVER (1988), and many more. So considering all this, I was pretty excited about seeing what these two would deliver in SNAKE FIST. As for the filmmakers behind the production, Ngai Hoi-Fung was the cinematographer for 170 films, and directed 10 (THE STORY OF DRUNKEN MASTER, 1979) including this one. Yeung Sai-Gwan, whose face many of you would likely recognize from his work as a bit player in titles like FIVE SUPERFIGHTERS (1979) and THE EIGHT DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER (1984), is the action director here… not that he should brag about that. Unfortunately, this film is a tiresome mess.

The movie starts off promisingly with Dick Wei, as Boss Yamakuchi, dressed in a black suit and hat, practicing Snake Fist by provoking two real cobras under the credits. How it could all go downhill from there is beyond me. And when I say downhill, I mean in an epic way. Like slipping off the peak of Mount Fuji-downhill.

Basically, Hong Kong gangster Nike, (who has an affinity for Caucasian women, and keeps snakes in his pool) gets mad when rich guy Mr. Chau Tai-Lung decides to invest his money in the mainland instead of giving it to him, so he sets up a hit on the guy. But the plan fails as Chang, the would-be assassin, has about as much stealth skill as a drunken elephant wearing a bell around its neck. Once he’s arrested, ‘famous Interpol officer’ Shang Hsia is assigned to take Chang to trial, teamed up with spunky officer Ting Yung, and assigned to protect Mr. Chau during his visit to China. They check out the place where Chau will be staying, then engage in a whole lot of nothing special. Flirting with each other, meeting a beautiful and mysterious model, running into Shang’s ex-wife who runs a modeling agency, and eating dinner. Favorite line: “When I see you feeding madly, I can’t control myself.” Meanwhile, Nike has hired a new assassin, described as “the youngest and most handsome man I’ve ever seen”, to kill the original, failed killer and Mr. Chau.

Nike’s men continue in their attempts to kill Chau, but they are almost as inept at their jobs as the people that made this film. Our two heroes FAX a picture of the ‘attractive’ hitman to the HK police to see if they can ID him, and that’s when Kara Hui finally appears (an hour into the film) wearing the most unflattering pants imaginable. Her younger sister helps her track down an informer who has been kidnapped by Yamakuchi’s man, and is being half-heartedly tortured. The two women and another police officer (played by Billy Chow of FIST OF LEGEND fame) break in, and they have a big fight against the boss and his henchmen. The boss escapes, and that’s the last we see or hear of him or Kara Hui’s HK cop.

Back on the mainland Shang’s ex puts on a big modeling show which Mr. Chau attends. So there’s a whole bunch of nonsense with models, music, and him watching the show. There’s also a big ‘reveal’ involving the slender hitman that you would have had to be asleep to have not seen coming. I won’t ruin the meager surprise. The whole thing comes to a head, with chasing, shooting, and fighting that should’ve been a hell of a lot more entertaining than it is.

As for the action, it’s far from the saving grace this film desperately needed. Other than the few seconds of Dick Wei at the beginning, he only appears in two brief scenes, and then the fight I mentioned. When Kara Hui does show up she makes the best of what little she’s given to do, which involves talking, then beating up a couple of guys (judging by their wardrobe, they must be the ‘Flannel Shirt Gang’) that are randomly attacking her sister in the park. This is adequately staged, but nothing to write home about. And… did I mention her pants? Yikes. Including the fight with the boss, she only has the three scenes which amount to little more than a glorified cameo. Hui and Wei’s scenes (amounting to about 9 minutes), seem like they may have been added into the film ‘cut & paste Godfrey Ho style’, to spice things up. Yes, Hui fights Wei, but it’s far from the compelling battle it could’ve been. The choreography is simple to a fault, with nary a stand-out moment. They also drag out the oft-used trope of a character fighting for a while before revealing their secret style and getting the upper hand. No surprise that even that is used poorly, as Wei’s character first allows himself to be severely pummeled before deciding that ‘Yes, this would be a good opportunity to use my Snake Fist’. Said skill is underwhelming looking at best. No more complex or interesting than when the bumbling characters in the Lucky Stars films pretend to know kung fu, but infinitely less entertaining than that. It’s always good seeing these performers, but the fight choreography and the way it’s filmed is so damn basic and uninvolving. Plus, certain parts of the fight are even repeated several times! During this fracas Billy Chow (who only appears in the one scene) does what he does best- realistically kickboxing the stuffing out of everyone around him. But the actress playing Hui’s sister obviously has no fighting skills whatsoever, and is wholly unconvincing in her action movements. Though it’s nothing special, this sequence is as amusing as the film manages to get. And that’s especially telling as this scene and the characters in it are only even vaguely connected to the rest of the movie.

Though the leads aren’t who they were advertised to be, they do an okay job, with the actress playing Ting Yung giving the more convincing action performance of the two. But that’s not saying much.

The continuity and timing during all of the action is dreadful. The film is poorly edited, in particular the action scenes, and it often looks like there simply wasn’t enough coverage of shots to make things work. Shoot-outs are dull beyond belief, with people standing twenty feet away from each other with little to no cover, firing blanks repeatedly at one another. At one point a character is supposed to be dodging gunfire, but it’s obvious the actor is simply concerned with jumping over strands of squibs buried beneath the dirt. He kind of looks like he is River-Dancing over the incoming bullets!

There are a couple stunt falls and little fire gags that are okay, but nearly everything in this movie just left me feeling let down. One action scene on a boat features perhaps the worst/most obvious wire-assisted stunt fall I’ve ever seen. Other than the brief bit with the cobras, and a moment involving a table-saw, there is a complete and utter lack of suspense or danger. In fact, people are apparently not that badly injured when shot directly in the middle of their spine from a few feet away. Also, there’s one bit during a shootout that involves a skateboard, played totally straight, that looks like something Stephen Chow would do while spoofing a John Woo movie. The very end offers some mediocre fisticuffs, featuring undeservedly exaggerated, spinning falls generated by the weakest looking strikes imaginable. If pressed to say something positive… I was surprised to see a couple of brutal straight-to-the-face bullet hits when the ‘handsome’ hitman shoots several people with his pistol. Is that a positive? I guess it is, as in the majority of movies worldwide it seems that people mainly get ‘hit’ in gun fights in places where it’s easy to conceal squibs (little special effects explosives taped on protective metal shields, and covered with blood bags, which are used to simulate bullet strikes). So these guys went to the trouble of creating these gory executions.

Besides featuring some of the most inept action choreography that I’ve seen in a Hong Kong production, the production values in general are basically non-existent, and the camerawork pedestrian. My favorite moment, and the only one that elicited a reaction from me stronger than an eye roll, was in the first few minutes when a cute, little dog was inexplicably dubbed barking like a Doberman pinscher.

To sum it up, the work of the filmmakers here was incompetent, there’s absolutely zero suspense, nothing impressive action-wise, it doesn’t star Kara Hui and Dick Wei, and the title is inappropriate. It’s more like a ‘Worm Finger’ than a ‘Snake Fist’!