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!

Big Bad Sis (Sun Chung, Hong Kong, 1976)

Ying (Chen Ping) beats the crap out of a garment factory’s resident dyke when she tries to rape newbie Fong (Chong Lee) in the toilets. Fong and co-worker Sai (Siu Yam-Yam) befriend Ying and move in with her. After hearing of their tragic histories at the hands of sex-crazed stepfathers and lusty relatives Ying agrees to train the two girls in street fighting but refuses to open up about her own life. But when another female employee is kidnapped and forced into prostitution the three girls set out to rescue her but in the process Ying is brought face to face with her past as a mistress/protege of local gangster Boss Dai (Wang Hsieh) and how the intervention of chivalrous restaurant owner Brother Shing (Chen Kuan-Tai) saved her life when she tried to quit. As Ying renews her friendship with an old flame still in Dai’s employ named Brother Wai (Wong Chung) the garment factory is threatened with closure by Boss Dai and Ying is kidnapped by his men. It’s up to the girls, plus Brothers Wai and Shing to save Ying from certain death!

Snappy, vivid and charming Shaw Bros mixture of melodramatic pulp and Women’s Lib with Chen Sing, Siu Yam-Yam and Chong Lee all easy to like as the gal pal workers who bond, share the same flat, then pour out their hearts to each other about the men who’ve done ’em wrong (in a delightful moment Ying tears open her blouse to reveal a garish tattoo on her left tit while declaring herself a fallen woman!) and who go on to form a kind of unofficial gang to protect themselves and their fellow workers from all those men who’d do them harm. Pretty soon Ying is teaching the girls the art of self-defence in a series of training montages and then away we go as the trio come to the rescue of various girls needing their help. The funniest of these is the humiliation of a chancer named Master Chiu who’s already got one of the factory girls, Siu, two months pregnant while seducing another with promises of marriage. By this time in the film it seems like half the girls at the factory are in on the fun and it’s a great moment when they swarm Chiu at the beach, strip him naked and have Siu come at him with a pair of garden shears as the girls all chant ‘Cut it off! Cut it off!’. Being a nice girl she of course doesn’t but the solution, with Ying reassuring Siu that if the father is so useless then all the girls will help bring up the boy, goes to the heart of what makes Big Bad Sis so likeable. The camaraderie and courage of the girls always wins through and in essence the film has a delightfully innocent charm to it. Strip out the sleazier aspects and it really could be one of those old British movies in which a group of enthusiastic youngsters get together to save a beloved institution – it has that kind of feel to it.

On Szeto’s script is pretty terrific. It gives the characters entertainingly colourful backstories, grounds the action in reasonably plausible character motivations and lets the girls punch back twice as hard at the men making their lives hell. Although the good guys in the shape of Brother Shing and Brother Wai get in on the action in the big finale the girls pretty much save themselves here. I particularly liked the scene in which Ying describes her upbringing at the hands of the evil Boss Dai as the film cuts between her being tattooed and her learning how to cheat punters at gambling. It’s as if the deeper she becomes mired in corruption the more these tattoos seem to spread across her body. Sun Chung’s energetic direction really sizzles in the action scenes. The sequence where Ying discovers that her employer owes Boss Dai money and visits the latter’s office to retrieve his debt note is a case in point. What does Ying do? Politely and patiently plead her case like a good girl should? Hell with that. She drenches the Boss with petrol then lights up a blowlamp before any of his goons can move and threatens to torch him unless he hands over the note. To which all I can say is Fucking A! It’s exhilarating scenes like this that make the film such a blast and to his credit Sun Chung also brings some depth to quieter scenes such as the doomed attraction between Ying and Brother Wai, the man who once took a beating from Boss Dai in order to protect her and yet out of misplaced loyalty can’t bring himself to leave his employer.

The big showdown, a massive scrap with Ying and Brother Wai fighting off Boss Dai and his men in and around a construction site is really something. There’s an exciting motorbike/car chase, while crowbars, hooks, spades and just about every other implement you can imagine on a building site are pressed into service here as a game Chen Ping – who really does seem to be doing almost all her own stuntwork – batters her enemies senseless whilst taking a hellacious beating in the process. To say the least, throwing yourself around on an actual building site carries no small degree of risk (it really does seem as if poor Chen Sing took a kick in the face for real at one point) and you have to admire the almost suicidal bravery of some of these stunt guys. Sun Chung’s direction really socks over the sense of a second by second fight for survival here and I was very impressed by the rhythm of his staging. He’s able to raise the stakes as the battle progresses to the point that we’re mightily relieved when the cavalry arrive in what literally seems like the nick of time. Thankfully it all culminates in the villains getting their just desserts and when Ying is taken away by the cops it’s to a rousing chorus as her fellow workers chant, in her honour, ‘Big Bad Sis! Big Bad Sis!! BIG BAD SIS!!!’ Right on, baby!