AKA: A Fight at Hong Kong Ranch
Director: Kim Si-hyun, Godfrey Ho
Producer: Lee Jung-keun
Cast: Johnny Chan, Dragon Lee (Mun Kyong-sok), Kong Do, Baak Wong Gei, Chui Man Fooi, Lee Ye Min, Bruce Lai (Chang Il-do), Gam Kei Chu, Cheung Lik, Samuel Walls
Running Time: 84 min.
By Paul Bramhall
Sometimes a kung fu movie will sound great on paper, but somehow turn out to be a disaster onscreen. Yuen Biao battling monsters and Gordon Liu? Many would say count me in, although in reality The Peacock King has few fans. Donnie Yen tearing up the surroundings in a fight against super kicker Billy Chow? Sounds like a kung fu fans dream, although many consider Iron Monkey 2 to be one of the worse movies out there. So how about a Bruce Lee clone and a Jackie Chan clone tearing it up through circa 1980 Korea against a cat stroking Blofeld type villain? Ok, so it may not sound great, but it does sound ridiculous, and that’s exactly what Golden Dragon, Silver Snake brings to the table. The best thing about it? Yes it sounds ridiculous on paper, but onscreen, it’s ridiculously entertaining.
Dragon Lee takes a break from starring in endless period pieces, almost always wearing the synonymous white t-shirt and black pants, to don some tight jeans, sneakers, and a variety of early 80’s sports tops. He even gets decked out in a quasi-Game of Death style yellow one-piece tracksuit for the finale. While newcomers to Dragon Lee will most likely (and rightfully so) scratch their heads on why a kung fu movie review is taking the time to describe the main characters wardrobe, for those that are familiar, I’m sure you’ll understand the surprise at seeing him in different attire from the usual. Lee would settle into starring in modern day gangster roles during the 90’s, most notably in The Nationwide Constituency trilogy, Chongro Blues, and Emperor of the Underworld, but in the 80’s it was a rare sight to see him starring in contemporary settings.
Lee is paired up with flash in the pan Jackie Chan clone Johnny Chan. Poor Johnny Chan disappeared from the movie scene almost as quickly as he came into it, with this and Revenge of the Drunken Master being the only movies he starred in. Sites like the Hong Kong Movie Database and the Korean Movie Database don’t even list him, despite being the star of the aforementioned movie. He’s like the Jackie Chan clone that never was. Korea actually managed to produce two clones of Jackie, the other one being Jackie Chang, who also made a Bruce Lee clone/Jackie Chan clone movie alongside Kim Tai-jung in Jackie and Bruce to the Rescue.
In Golden Dragon, Silver Snake there’s a vicious gang extorting protection money from the residents of a small town, and when one of the townsfolk decides to rise up and take a stand against them, he receives a drill in the chest for his troubles, signalling his demise. However the victim turns out to be the brother of Dragon Lee, and Lee’s arrival coincides with the gangs attempts to force a family off their farm so that it can be demolished, making way for a new tourist hotel. Johnny Chan is one of the workers on the farm, who has his eye on the owner’s daughter, and is also friendly with the local rickshaw driver, played by the man who’s been in every Korean kung fu movie ever made, Choi Min-kyu.
Soon Lee has taken a job as a cook, as he does in so many of his movies, it seems the times can change but his occupation doesn’t. It’s not the only thing which hasn’t changed though, Golden Dragon, Silver Snake employs a lot of old-school kung fu movie tropes, and simply applies them to a modern setting. The rickshaw driver turns out to be a kung fu master, and sets about training Chan via making him walk around while balancing rocks at the same time. Drunken Master reference check box – ticked! The difference is of course, that in these training scenes, they’re both dressed in modern day threads, and despite taking place in a forest, get disturbed by motorbike riding gangsters rather than mischievous kung fu rascals (or Dean Shek).
Golden Dragon, Silver Snake appears to be a genuine co-production between Korea and Hong Kong, co-directed by Kin Si-hyun and Godfrey Ho, and was originally titled A Fight at Hong Kong Ranch. The movie also provides us with Kong Do, a familiar face from many Hong Kong movies such as Tiger Over Wall and Kung Fu Zombie, as the bad guy of the piece. It’s really the bad guys here which make proceedings so entertaining. The mystery Blofeld style villain, who we never see the face of for the majority of the runtime, doesn’t just stroke his cat, he energetically throws it into the face of any lackey who’s screwed up, subjecting them to its wild scratching. The villain’s base is also inside a gym, which is constantly full of shirtless guys pumping all kinds of iron. When I say gym, I mean all of their meetings take place around the guys who are exercising, it doesn’t even seem to have its own office.
Special mention has to go to the randomly inserted scene of Chang Il-do (aka Bruce Lei) facing off against Samuel Walls. This scene comes out of nowhere near the beginning of the movie, and to add to its strangeness, the scene itself is also abruptly edited. Mid-fight it suddenly changes, and Walls has gone from being shirtless and fighting Il-do, to wearing full dobok and fighting Nick Cheung Lik. In a lame attempt at creating some coherency, the scene ends on a close-up of Dragon Lee grinning like a Cheshire Cat. What does it all mean? I have absolutely no idea, apart from there must have been some unused footage from Enter the Three Dragons, so they threw it in here.
The finale of Golden Dragon, Silver Snake is over 20 minutes of basically non-stop fighting, as both Lee and Chan storm the bad guys hideout, which is what looks to be a large unused resort complex. The focus is much more on Lee than Chan in the action scenes, with Lee rampaging through what must be close to twenty or more suited and booted lackeys in everything from empty swimming pools to a fairground. It kind of reminded me of a scene in Tom Yum Goong, when Tony Jaa takes on an endlessly re-generating bunch of black suit wearing bad guys in the finale to that movie. Speaking of being reminded of other movies, Lee’s fight in a playground pre-dates Jackie Chan’s similar scene in Police Story 2 by 8 years. Bad guys are dispatched using swings, see-saws, and even the slide sees some action!
Chan of course also gets to bust out some moves, although the filmmakers seem to struggle to fit what was the real Jackie Chan’s form of comedic fighting into a modern day setting, which was in line with the stars output at the time. So the result is we see him performing what can only be described as egg kung fu, complete with a soundtrack which is made up of chickens clucking. It’s quite jarring when juxtaposed with Lee’s screaming intensity in the scenes that are being cut alongside it. As if Johnny Chan randomly pulling eggs out of thin air wasn’t enough, at one point Kong Do also takes off a wig he’s been wearing, to reveal a full head of hair underneath! None of this gets any explanation, it’s just thrown in there with no rhyme or reason, which somehow makes it even more hilarious.
Thing culminate quite unexpectedly, with an impressive stunt that sees Lee clinging onto the front of a speed boat as it takes to the water. This is the only time I’ve seen Dragon Lee perform stunt work, as he’s usually a straight-up kung fu guy, so it was refreshing to see him in such a dangerous situation. It’s both clear that it’s him, and that the boat is traveling at quite a speed, no undercranking here, so kudos to him for performing such a potentially dangerous stunt.
Eventually things end up back on dry land, and we finally get to see what he’s been carrying in his tube shaped backpack (think Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon when he first infiltrates the underground base) – it’s a steel baseball bat! What other movie has Dragon Lee, armed with a steel baseball bat, squaring off against opponents wielding everything from a drill (Tiger on the Beat would up the ante on using power tools a few years later) to a pair of knives? The answer of course is none, but thankfully, Golden Dragon, Silver Snake does it right first time.
Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 7.5/10