Hong Kong Digital
is a recurring series of movie reviews by John Charles -- a film
reviewer for Video Watchdog magazine and the author of The Hong
Master With Cracked Fingers
A young Jackie Chan. Image courtesy Xenon.
If there is one constant the world over when it comes to being a movie star, it's that your early, long-forgotten projects will invariably come back to haunt you. Back in 1973, an extremely young Jackie Chan starred in a cheap independent production called THE CUB TIGER FROM KWANG TUNG, which had little or no release before disappearing into oblivion. When Chan became a superstar in the late 70s, the movie was dusted off and re-edited, mixing in some bits swiped from DRUNKEN MASTER (1978) and new footage of Simon Yuen Siu-tien, Dean Shek Tien, and an obvious Chan double (whose face is never shown). The resulting jumble was acquired by Eurotrash maven Dick Randall, who gave it the title MASTER WITH CRACKED FINGERS and had it dubbed into English by actors who regularly re-voiced Italian exploitation films. The movie was eventually acquired by 21st Century Distribution, who put it into American grindhouses in 1981 under the name SNAKE FIST FIGHTER, with a poster closely pattered after the one for the big-budget Warner Brothers/Golden Harvest collaboration THE BIG BRAWL. Years later, when Chan's star began to rise again in the West, thanks to New Line's 1996 release of RUMBLE IN THE BRONX, all of his old work was trotted out once more, including this shoddy effort. As is almost always the case with cash-ins of this sort, MASTER WITH CRACKED FINGERS has little going for it, save for the novelty value of seeing the still-teenaged Chan working his magic, and will be all but unwatchable to those who know the star only from his later Golden Harvest and Hollywood work.
Impetuous young child Jackie wants to learn kung fu but cannot afford to pay for lessons. He finds a willing teacher in the form of a scraggly beggar (the great Simon Yuen Siu-tien in his signature role), known as "The Man Who Isn't There," who just happens to be a martial arts master. After several years of instruction, Jackie (now played by Chan) is quite proficient but his father (Tien Feng) abhors violence and forbids him to use his talents. The young waiter's temper, however, is constantly tested by some local hoods and his father's punishments grow more and more severe, culminating in Jackie being forced to plunge his right fist into broken glass. The beggar is able to heal his pupil's wound and Jackie is once again making trouble for the local ganglord, foiling his henchmen and destroying their dockside extortion racket. The triads burn down his home in retribution, killing Jackie's father, and setting the stage for a final blindfolded duel between the lad and the main villain (Korean fighter Kwan Yung-moon).
Tien Feng (right). Image courtesy Xenon.
The star's acrobatics are entertaining, but not on the level of what he would accomplish later on in the decade, and the editing and continuity are a mess. The film does have some mild pleasures, particularly the endearingly comic antics of Simon Yuen, who is able to make the most of his limited screentime and the dubious nature of the footage. Ultimately though, MASTER WITH CRACKED FINGERS is the kind of unabashed ripoff that gave old school kung fu films such a bad name in the West and will only be of interest to die hard Chan fans and genre completists. Hon Kwok-choi, a familiar comic figure in 70s films, co-stars as a pickpocket who changes sides to help Chan. The soundtrack includes music lifted from Tangerine Dream's score for SORCERER (1977) and the "Popeye, the Sailor Man" theme!
Hon Kwok-choi and Jackie Chan. Image courtesy Xenon.