Master with Cracked Fingers (1979)

Many years ago, around 1971, there was a 17 year old boy who was excellent at kung fu and had a brilliant acting and stunt career ahead of him. His name? Well, we’ll just call him Jackie. Now he had appeared in a few films as a child actor already in the 1960s, but in 1971 he had the first chance to be the star and carry the film on his back. This movie became known as Little Tiger of Canton. Unfortunately for poor Jackie, the movie released quietly in 1973 to little fanfare and was largely forgotten for several years…

…until 1978 that is. Because in 1978, Jackie suddenly hit it big with a little film you kung fu fans might have heard of, Drunken Master. Jackie’s popularity started to explode at home in Hong Kong and Western audiences began to take notice. To capitalize on this, someone with access to the original Little Tiger of Canton footage decided to remix it a bit with footage taken from Drunken Master. To fill out the new title, Yuen Siu-tien was even hired to again play Jackie’s mentor in a Begger So-inspired role, called “The Man Who Isn’t There,” while a stand in was hired to portray Jackie’s character in additional scenes with his face kept intentionally obscured. Dick Randall then got a hold of the reedited project, got people to dub it, and released it in the US under the title Snake Fist Fighter, which we now know as Master with Cracked Fingers.

Little Tiger of Canton might be a good film. But Master with Cracked Fingers is a ridiculous joke of a movie with new footage shoddily slapped in among old to try and make a quick buck on Jackie Chan’s new found fame. To put it lightly, it’s bad. And it’s almost entirely the new footage’s fault. The original film seems pretty interesting, in which Jackie plays a waiter fighting a group of extortionists in his town and ultimately fighting their leader and beating him by repeatedly kicking him in the balls. But this is interposed with random headshots of characters reacting in extreme closeup, new comedy fights that have been slapped on, a tacked-on subplot about a landlord, a new final battle, and even a reference to Popeye the Sailor in the middle of the movie. No attempt was made to color-correct the old footage with the new either, so you’ll go from dark shots of the old film to obvious lighter ones of the new footage, with the Drunken Master clips somewhere in the middle. To try and make up for the inclusion of Drunken Master clips, the stand in every now and again throws in a drunken boxing move or two.

Did any of you guys see Game of Death, Golden Harvest’s attempt to finish Bruce Lee’s final film using stand ins wearing motorcycle helmets? This is the Jackie Chan equivalent, only made worse because of the inclusion of fart jokes, extreme closeups of people shouting like they were part of the movie, and an entirely random flashback at the end of the movie which goes all creepy pedo as The Man Who Isn’t There entices a three year old Jackie to meet him at night in the woods, get naked, and climb into his sack.

I liked the stuff from Little Tiger of Canton, but I really don’t like Master with Cracked Fingers, even as a fan of both Jackie Chan and Yuen Siu-tien. Yes, even Ol’ Dirty can’t save this.

That said, there is one saving grace: once weapons end up involved in the final (new) battle, it’s actually pretty damn good. The battle between trident and sword is well handled, especially considering the actors are blindfolded at the time. I wish all the new footage could have been that awesome.

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