"The Eagle's Shadow," the latest kung-fu epic to arrive for Washington's apparently insatiable martial-arts fans, follows a traditional Hatfield-McCoy formula. In this case, it's a battle for supremacy between disciples of the feuding Snake Fist and Eagle Claw schools of martial arts.
Any woman who's ever been annoyed by a grabby male will immediately recognize the Eagle Claw technique, while Snake Fist is akin to contact hand-shadow puppetry. It's all quite enjoyable and amusing, though not always intentionally.
In the martial-arts genre, many things need to be forgiven: terrible dubbing in which actors who obviously can't speak English try anyhow; a generic soundtrack (music and special effects) that seems to drift from film to film without much relationship to plot or action; inconsistent quality in the photography; and Grand Guignol acting.
Then again, it's tremendous fun to see lightning-quick and decidedly furious hand-to-foot-to-chest-to-neck-to-hand fighting and bodies spinning and twisting through the air with the greatest of ease, all without any appreciable harm being done to the combatants. One admires these gladiators (in this case Jackie Chan, Juan Jan Lee and Simon Yuen) and respects the tremendous body control involved. One also wonders how they can keep straight faces through 90 minutes of nonstop fighting.
Chan plays the rather thick-headed buffoon who literally becomes a punching bag for a two-bit martial-arts school until a chance encounter with a Snake teacher transforms him into an unparalleled fighter--after a long training sequence mighty reminiscent of "Rocky."
Happily, Chan never loses the dumb charm of the reluctant champion. In one sequence, he torments a former master with hilarious anticipatory moves. Chan's relationship with his teacher is almost coltish, and even in the midst of a protracted fight he finds time for a stream of one-liners that would make Henny Youngman proud while giving new meaning to the phrase punch line.
Since the dialogue is barely understandable, the focus is on the battles, almost all of them one-on-one. These are properly spectacular, and are testimony to the speed, strength and endurance of the participants, including, in one bit, a real snake and a rather put-upon alley cat. The lone Westerner in the film, Roy Horan, gets a little help--but not enough--from a long, mean-looking sword. However, the fight scenes rely too heavily on the kung-fu equivalent of a laugh track, in this case a whooshing sound for kicking legs or punching arms and a ridiculous clapping sound for the occasional contact. It doesn't help that synchronization is not director Yuen Woo Pong's forte or that the bare-bones plot makes any Chuck Norris film look like "Shogun."
Still, "The Eagle's Shadow" is more fun than tedium, which can't be said for most of the genre.