Fangs Of The Cobra (Sun Chung, Hong Kong, 1977)

Tang (Hua Tsung) returns home to take over his father’s farm and falls in love with the pretty Ah Fen (Yao Hsia). When the villainous Brother Hu (Hung Wei) attempts to ensnare Tang in the clutches of his glamourous but devious girlfriend Cousin Man-ling (Danna) he only succeeds in drawing Tang and Ah Fen even closer together. With marriage in the offing Brother Hu lays plans to make Tang a widow on his wedding day so Man-ling can get at him. But both have reckoned without the protectiveness of Ah Fen’s childhood friend – a fully grown cobra named Xixi!

A girl’s best friend is her snake. That’s the motto of director Sun Chung’s likeable and hilarious charmer which benefits from a sweet chemistry between its two human leads and the outrageousness of its central idea that a fully grown cobra could be anything other than a dangerous menace. In this case Xixi (pronounced “Sisi”) is both cute pet and fierce protector to Ah Fen and so intelligent she can figure out a way to save a wedding party from being blown up in their car, stop the predatory Man-ling from seducing Tang, obey her owners command to attack and – in a climactic fight with a mongoose – slither up on top of a table to tip a jar of boiling water on its enemy’s head. I mean we’re talking one seriously smart snake here (probably graduated summa cum laude from Snake University). This is sort of like the Shaw version of Lassie with the sweetness of a human to human love story plus added sleaze and violence. I thought it worked really well but in a way it does so because it goes against the grain of what a Shaw movie usually is. Instead of tons of plot with fights and chases every few minutes the burgeoning love affair between Tang and Ah Fen comprises probably 2/3 of the movie. Yet watching these two never feels like a chore because the script has some nice touches such as Hu’s botched kidnap which sets the stage for a heretofore suspicious Ah Fen to recognise Tang’s sincerity toward her – exactly the opposite of what he’d planned. Tang’s hatred of snakes (his own mother died after having been bitten by one) means Xixi ends up banished from the house even after she’s saved him from some thugs and it’s interesting how bad we feel about that. As much as we don’t want anything awful to happen to Tang or Ah Fen we’d be really sad if Xixi got hurt. I also liked the way the script structures a bomb attempt on Ah Fen’s wedding convoy, leading us to fear the worst before revealing – in a terrific little flashback – just how everyone’s lives were saved by Xixi.

Speaking of Xixi, her performance is quite excellent. She straightens up on command, hisses when told, moves in the right direction as required and even lets Ah Fen stroke her in a most convincing owner/pet manner. If there was an Oscar for Best Snake performance (even in a competitive year) Xixi would slither away with it. She’s really good and I loved the way director Sun Chung keeps showing us Xixi watching over her mistress. There’s a scene here where the pair are lounging at the beach and Ah Fen tells Tang she’s pregnant. As Tang jumps for joy the camera zooms out to show this bloody snake watching them from the clifftop! It’s hilarious and yet at the same time there’s an oddly compelling quality about it. As for the rest of the cast they’re effective too with Hung Wei suitably shifty as our hero’s unscrupulous foster brother and Hong Kong actress Danna a hoot as the pouting sexpot. Danna’s got a good body and gives her softcore scenes a charge, not least on account of those amazing nipples of hers (like bullets they are). The film works up to a strong climax with Hu taking revenge after Tang sacks him by releasing a mongoose to kill Tang’s newly born baby boy. The resulting reptile vs animal smackdown is well staged with the pair snapping ferociously at each other and both Hu and Man-ling end up getting their just desserts as an enraged Xixi gives the lovers some lovebites of her own. Also of note is a neat little plot twist connecting the loathsome Brother Hu with the snake death of Tang’s mother. The film looks good too with evocative studio sets – such as Ah Fen’s shack on the river complete with ducks paddling by – and some quite spectacular location footage of the characters up in the mountains. Great closing scene too as Tang and Ah Feng, now family because of their baby, go looking for Xixi only to be greeted by the spectacle of.. well, see if you can guess!