Saturday, August 20, 2011

In short: Snuff-Bottle Connection (1977)

The peaceable and humble China is again threatened by dastardly foreigners. Because no buck-toothed Japanese could be found, and the British are busy wondering who that Wong Fei Hung is (the devil?), it's time for the Russian menace (in form of guys in vaguely "Russian" clothes speaking English with fake Russian accents, of course) to arrive. Seems like the Russians are trying to somehow acquire ports that won't freeze in winter, and send a certain Colonel Tolstoy (Roy Horan) to China, supposedly as a diplomat, but in truth to conspire with Chinese traitors, when he's not writing really long books, I suppose.

The Emperor's officials aren't sleeping on the job, though, and send out their excellent agent Shao Ting Shang (John Liu Chung-Liang) to ferret out the traitors and get rid of the Russians. Shao for his part knows that he could use an expert knife thrower to conquer Tolstoy's horrible modern pistols, and so seeks the help of his friend, the kind-hearted rogue Kao (Yip Fei-Yang), who is perfectly willing to put his life on the line for Emperor and country. Kao comes complete with his own kid sidekick, the frighteningly agile Xiao Do Sze (Wong Yat-Lung). This being a Taiwanese movie, the child might very well be doomed.

Together, the trio kicks, punches and perforates through masses of henchmen until a pair of valuable snuff bottles the conspirators use for identification and the obscure snake-hawk fighting style some of their enemies prefer leads them to the brain behind the traitorous operation, General Shantung (Hwang Jang-Lee in the obligatory white wig). Then it's time for more kicking and punching.

Snuff-Bottle Connection (directed by Dung Gam-Woo and Lily Lau Lap-Lap) won't go down in the annals of martials arts cinema as a movie doing anything of interest with its plot, its characters, or its drama. One could in fact argue that the film is slight in these respects even by the rather loose standards of martial arts cinema, seeing as it does not even try to make its plot look complicated, does not contain character development that I'd know of (I'm not even sure it contains characters, now that I think about it), and only goes for the simplest ways of affecting its audience emotionally - patriotism and the killing of children.

In this film, plot is something you only need to string your fighting sequences together, and the film really contains a lot of fights.

Fortunately, much of the fighting is really pretty darn great thanks to performances of a cast of kung fu cinema experts and the action direction of the great Yuen Wo-Ping. Snuff-Bottle Connection's fights aren't among Yuen's most creative works (this film was made in the year before Drunken Master and Snake in the Eagle's Shadow would let Yuen come fully into his own), but they are already acrobatic, fast, and done with a loving eye for detail. It's a bit like witnessing the point where Yuen turns from a good action choreographer to the guy who reinvented part of the body language of martial arts cinema.

As an added bonus, Yuen is also able to do the nearly unthinkable in Taiwanese and Hong Kong cinema, and lets the white guys look relatively good in fights (an ability that would much later surface again when the poor man had to make immovable objects like Keanu Reaves look lively).

So, while there's really nothing about Snuff-Bottle Connection except for the fighting, the fighting's so swell that theoretically film-destroying problems aren't much of a problem in reality.


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