Deadly Snail vs Kung Fu Killers
aka 天螺大破五行陣 aka Tin Loh Daai Poh Ng Hang Chan
Written and directed by Heung Ling
Deadly Snail vs. Kung Fu Killers is one of those films where you see the title and think “this movie will be AWESOME!” and then you watch it and it can never live up to your expectations from the title alone. Especially since it isn’t some sort of genre exploitation monster flick but is instead a reconfiguration of an old Chinese fairy tale/opera into a romantic comedy with increasingly weirder and weirder kung fu. So judging it as the exploitation flick you mistake it to be is sort of unfair. It isn’t the type of movie that you can readily explain to someone that doesn’t watch a lot of weird stuff, but for the affectionandos, Deadly Snail vs. Kung Fu Killers has some fun things you don’t often see, and the rest of the film could be a lot worse to sit through while waiting for those scenes than it is.
We do have chicks who are fairies of the snail variety fighting some kung fu killers who are actually various elemental demons and a lizard guy. But I guess Fairy Chicks vs. Elemental Dudes doesn’t pack ’em in at the movie houses. The story at first follows the standard tale of a young man whose family is dead and his evil uncle and aunt are using him just to waste away his inheritance that he knows nothing about (at least they don’t make him live under the stairs!) But then thinks get more magical and the film gets more awesome!
The opening credits have red and blue sparlking lights, then a montage of snakes and a snail shell. This was the time when kung fu movies would have someone doing a bunch of jumps and kicks in the opening credits, so instead having snakes slither around and snail shells is sort of fun. I am not sure if a snail was killed at some point, though, so boo to that if it happened! What we do see is a bloody snail shell, but by the amount and color of the blood it is just fake human blood. A guy grabs the snail shell which has rolled over to him away from the snake. I can’t tell you how many times I see snail shells rolling away from snakes. Probably 19 times a day. But I live on a farm that raises rolling snails and also snakes that practice bowling, so maybe I’m biased.
Chang Fu is the guy, and as he goes to sleep at night, a lady talks to him in his dreams and commands that he drop blood on the head of the snail in the snail shell. Holy Little Shop of Horrors, Batman! Chang Fu’s life is not all parties and spooky, blood-craving snail shells, he’s constantly abused by his scheming uncle, violent aunt, and weakling but rapey son Wai Chai. Uncle forces Chang Fu to do all the chores on the farm, along with Wai Chai’s betrothed, Chen Lao, who is disgusted by Wai Chai and is the only person who is nice to Chang Fu.
Suddenly we are under the sea (darling, it’s better down where it’s wetter, take it from me!) and a sea fairy princess sees Chang Fu working on her clamshell-screen tv and says “It’s him!” Of course it is. She’s the lady who commended him to drop blood on the snail shell, so she is our Deadly Snail! She’s played by Candice Yu On-On, who starred in a lost of Shaw stuff in the 70s and some exploitation gems in the early 80s, but is probably best known now for being Chow Yun-Fat’s first wife. So with the help of her two sisters (all the sisters just call each other “Sister”), Sea Snail Fairy steals a shell and then escapes to the surface world. The Sea Snail Fairy lives in this magical technicolor dream world so it’s like a complete 180 to Chang Fu’s dark and dreary abused farmboy reality. Imagine a romantic comedy except the two leads are from two completely opposite genre films and you will get a sense of why this film just feels confusing and weird at times.
At first Sea Snail Fairy helps Chang Fu out secretly by preparing him meals and cleaning up his place, but she can’t help jumping in and out to help him and eventually he spots her. She’s upfront with him about being a Sea Snail Fairy and wanting to marry him because he’s kind, so they get married and are all set to live happily ever after. (Until life says otherwise!)
Of course the In-Laws are outraged that Chang Fu has found any sort of happiness and plot to get rid of her, but thanks to her fairy powers, Sea Snail Fairy easily sidesteps their plans. The film has a ton of scenes of snail going all home alone on the wanna-be rapist son and his gang of thugs. But trouble is afoot in the form of a visiting monk (Unicorn Chan!), who is secretly a snake demon, and promises the In-Laws he can get rid of Sea Snail Fairy once and for all. This spirals into increasingly weird action sequences, Sea Snail Fairy fighting a giant rubber snake, and the massive finale where her sisters do battle against an array of element-themed demons including Snake Demons, a Gold Demon, a Tree Demon, a Fire Demon, a Dirt Demon, and a Water Demon. The gold demon even has a golden Smurf hat(!!!), orange long hair, brown skin, black frilly collar, no shirt, a gold skirt, and two gold stick weapons. The Tree Demon creaks as he moves, has a tree stump hat, and one of his attacks is to turn into a bunch of logs! The head Snake Demon is Simon Yuen Siu-Tin! Everyone looks and acts like Dr. Seuss designed some kung fu craziness for our enjoyment!
It’s non-stop kung fu and kung fu zaniness that rivals some of the classic weird fu out there, the biggest problem is the film takes a while to get to this payoff, and it isn’t the kind of ride some people will be happy with. If you want straight up action or straight up drama, Deadly Snail vs. Kung Fu Killers isn’t going to deliver, but it does give you that weird weird stuff.
I tried figuring out what the original story was for this film but I failed, because I am a failure. No, actually, the Internet failed me by not making it so easy to find. How dare you, Internet, how dare you! Hopefully this will be like all prior movie mysteries where the solution is later discovered and then a decade after that someone yells at me in the comments for not knowing what is in the future common knowledge. So for that future commentor, no you are the ding dong!
The most easy to find print of Deadly Snail vs. Kung Fu Killers is dubbed and full-screen from Ocean Shores. This means a lot of scenes are cropped off, and the dubbers quickly realized this film wasn’t to be taken too seriously and probably camped up the dialogue in response. As it is an older print, there is also a washed out color feeling, which really smarts because a lot of the fantasy scenes are filled with bright blues and the film suffers a bit from their dulling. I’ll add this to the ever-expanding list of movies I dream will get HD restorations (a list that has become less of a pipe dream in recent years!)
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