The Snuff Bottle Connection
(image courtesy of Hong Kong Movie Database)
Director: Dung Gam Woo and Lilly Lau Lap Lap
Action Director: Yuen Woo Ping
Plot: A Russian Colonel ( Roy Horan) visits China on to celebrate the Emperor’s birthday; this is a guise to conspire with Manchu General Shantung (Hwang Jang Lee) and his corrupt officers (Hsu Hsia, Phillip Kao Fei) to invade Manchuria from Siberia. They use a pair of antique snuff bottles to identify when the time is right. Suspicious of the Russian’s visit, Chancellor Pu (Cho Kin) brings in Shao Ting Shang, his partner Kao and Kao’s young friend Xiao Do Sze (Wong Yat Lung) to investigate what the Russian Colonel’s true intentions. Shao and the others uncover a plot that has repercussions for the Manchurian Dynasty and all of China.
With Yuen Wo Ping handling the choreography we expect some good fist fights. Yuen doesn’t disappoint. We are treated to some excellent hand work from Yip Fei Yang as Kao, Phillip Kao Fei brings his usual greatness, John Liu’s hand work looks as good as his kicks, and Hwang Jang Lee is well…Hwang Jang Lee. The fights go along with the plot and what I like about these type of movies is the counter technique certain characters have with others. For example, Kao’s throwing knives are used as a counter to Colonel Tolstoy’s two guns. This is what makes old school kung fu movies great! Another great thing we are treated to is making the bad guy look like a total beast. We see this in two key scenes: When General Shangtung ( Hwang Jang Lee) is doing his Iron Fan form and when the General spars with Tao Kwan ( Hsu Hsia). In the second example, the General calls out his strikes as he beats Tao Kwan, who after the sparring session comments that he tried his best and still couldn’t beat the General. These little things separate old school kung fu cinema (when it is good) from some newer productions who have forgotten that the bad guy must be a total bad ass in order to drive the impact of the final showdown to the audience. Yuen Wo Ping also shows us something we rarely see and that’s John Liu handling a weapon! John’s spear work looks great although it is a very short part in one of the fight scenes. The fight scenes in Snuff Bottle Connection drive the story, create emotional impact, and position characters in their fighting hierarchy without the need to use dialogue to help us understand ( many times Kao has less opponents or less skilled opponents than Shao Ting Shang does since Shao is the hero and Kao is his partner).
Snuff Bottle Connection is one of the quintessential old school films. It has two ruthless bad guys, betrayl, character development, intrigue and the heroic theme of brotherhood. Yuen Wo Ping’s masterful choreography helps to advance the story while keeping with the old school tradition of counter-techniques or strategies inherent in the characters’ fighting styles. This is one movie that should be on your shelf.