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As China and Russia's governments are talking peace, traitorous agents on both sides seek war. Enter John Liu as a special agent sent to identify who the Russian traitor is, and who his contact is within the walls of the Forbidden City.
SNUFF BOTTLE CONNECTION -- Above-average kung fu tale
SNUFF BOTTLE CONNECTION (1977) adds a novel twist to the kung fu genre by making a group of Russians the villains and setting up a Chinese secret agent and his con man brother as the Ching Dynasty's only defense against a Russian takeover of Manchuria. It's a fairly simple plot, devoted primarily to the heroes' efforts to identify the Chinese official in league with the Russians, and is basically an excuse for lots of well-staged fights between well-matched kung fu performers in scenes choreographed by kung fu director extraordinaire Yuen Wo Ping, best known today for his work in IRON MONKEY, THE MATRIX and CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON.
The long-legged, high-kicking John Liu (SECRET RIVALS, INVINCIBLE ARMOUR) plays the imperial agent who goes undercover to find out who's playing host to the four Russian military men visiting Ching Yoon Town. Liu turns for help to his brother Kao (Yip Fei Yang), a con artist and gambler with a young thief-in-training (Wong Yat Lung) as his protégé. Kao's abilities come in handy when the need arises to steal the jade snuff bottle of the title from the Russians and use it to smoke out the traitor. Dependable kung fu villain--and an equally adept high kicker--Hwang Jang Lee, adorned with long white hair, plays General Shantung, the former military hero who has agreed to help the Russians in exchange for a promise to be installed as their puppet ruler after the invasion.
The Russians, led by Colonel Tolstoy (Roy Horan), are a rowdy lot--three of the four are expert martial artists and supreme troublemakers to boot. Two of them visit the local establishments, including a restaurant and casino, and proceed to wreck the joints and beat up all the bouncers when they don't get what they want. All three of the fighting Russians eventually have to take on our heroes in battle, as do the Chinese traitor and his two chief henchmen.
Two strong heroes and six formidable villains add up to the right formula for a consistently entertaining and action-packed kung fu film. Some of the fights involve the ancient "snake-hawk" style and some involve a variety of weapons. The action culminates in an extended seven-minute bout in which Liu and his brother take on Hwang Jang Lee. The weapons are a major feature of the fights, with Kao's exotic throwing blades pitted against Colonel Tolstoy's old-fashioned dueling pistols in a couple of confrontations. There are poles, spears, swords, and blades-on-chains, as well as that old Yuen Wo Ping standby, the bench, employed as well. The traitorous General uses the famed iron fan in a most lethal way. Most of the major fights are staged on location at temple and courtyard settings or in the sprawling Taiwanese countryside.
Kao is played by Yip Fei Yang, who played a dual role in INSTANT KUNG FU MAN, which also featured Liu and Hwang in the cast. The director of that film was Tung Kan Wu, who co-directed this film with Lily Liu. Wong Yat Lung, who plays Kao's acrobatic boy sidekick, played similar roles in SLEEPING FIST and THUNDERING MANTIS. Future action film director Yuen Kwai (Corey Yuen) appears as another fighting villain. Western martial artist Roy Horan (seen also in SNAKE IN THE EAGLE'S SHADOW) plays Colonel Tolstoy. There is one female supporting character, the daughter of the restaurant owner and the object of Kao's affections, but she appears early on and then vanishes from the rest of the film. Also spotted briefly in fighting bits are Yuen Shun Yi (aka Sonny Yuen, from BUDDHIST FIST), Yuen Biao (PRODIGAL SON) and Chien Yuet San (THUNDERING MANTIS).
The English dubbing leaves a lot to be desired and sounds particularly awkward with the overdone Russian accents. The music cues are all lifted from Hollywood soundtracks. Nonetheless, it's an otherwise well-put-together film with good production and costume design and lots of exciting fights enacted by skilled and charismatic performers.
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