Snakes get a bad rap.
It’s understandable. At face value alone they look quite dangerous, and out of the roughly 2400 types of snakes in the world, more than 600 are deadly enough to inflict a mild case of death. Christo-Judaic lore holds them in unflattering regard, as the serpent represents the temptations of evil. Even Cinema’s most daring adventurer, Indiana Jones, suffers from a crippling fear of these slithery creatures.
Personally, I love snakes. Then again, I love all animals so I’m biased. The fact is, snakes are pretty misunderstood and in most cases, unfairly or inaccurately depicted. For one, they’re not slimy as many seem to believe. Neither are they aggressive, unless threatened or provoked. In my experience, if you know how to handle them they make excellent pets. According to the Chinese Zodiac, the snake is a wise, calm being and a harbinger of wealth. It is believed that having a snake or (more specifically) a person born in the Year of the Snake in your household means you will never be left wanting for material comforts. We’ve seen more than enough monstrous, villainous snakes in the movies. In the spirit of the festive season, here’s a list of snakes that fall on the right side of virtuous. I’ve taken some liberties with the definition of a snake here, but they’re all worthy examples nonetheless…
MASTER VIPER IN “KUNG FU PANDA”
This character best encapsulates the more positive Eastern view of snakes. When every other member of the renowned gang of martial arts experts known as the Furious Five rejects Po the Panda as a laughable misfit, Master Viper displays nothing but compassion and motherly protectiveness over him. She’s the only one who does not mock Po, even rushing to his defense when he fails to abide by his rigorous training. Voiced by Lucy Liu, Viper may be a minor character, but I like her more than the prominent ones like Angelina Jolie’s sullen Master Tigress. She’s soft when she needs to be and tough when the action calls for it. Plus, there’s something inherently sensual about a female snake (no, I’m not into bestiality).
SNAKE PLISSKEN IN “ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK”
More anti-hero than actual hero, you’ll root for him all the same cos he’s by far the least unpleasant thing in the post-apocalyptic world of the film. While his adversaries have absolutely no redeeming values, Snake Plissken does. He doesn’t take no shit from nobody, he doesn’t hurt innocents, and he’s a total badass. I mean, it’s Kurt frickin’ Russell, man. The 80s action icon — in an eyepatch. He’s not wearing it to look pretty either. Snake is a highly-decorated former Special Forces lieutenant who lost his left eye during a military operation. Impaired vision has not prevented him from being as fast and deadly as his namesake (which he got from the tattoo on his abs). Snake turned away from government servitude and towards a life of crime after a betrayal that left his parents dead. So you see, the guy’s cynical and hard-nosed only because they made him this way. In the end, he still saves the day. By the way, I could’ve thrown in Stallone’s Marion Cobretti from “Cobra” if we’re talking named-after-a-legless-reptile characters. But that movie’s lame.
MUCALINDA THE SERPENT KING IN “LITTLE BUDDHA”
In Buddhist mythology, Mucalinda is actually a “Naga”, a dragon-like being with mystical powers. On Earth, they take on the form of regular-looking serpents. There are many legends about the Buddha’s enlightenment. This one is my favourite: The Buddha had been meditating in a forest for four straight weeks when a storm hit the area. Just as the rain began to fall, a gigantic cobra slid up behind the Prince, spread its hood over him and sheltered him from the relentless downpour. This event is brought to life in the Bernardo Bertolucci film “Little Buddha”, which you can check out in the clip above. When the great storm finally cleared, the serpent king assumed his true human form, bowed before the Buddha, then left. The clip doesn’t show that part. In fact, Mucalinda is a very small aspect of the film. But it’s a pretty memorable scene not only because it casts the snake in an unexpectedly noble light. As religious parables go, this one act quite elegantly sums up what Buddhism inspires.
CHIEN FU IN “SNAKE IN THE EAGLE’S SHADOW”
Nowadays, the most common move associated with a Jackie Chan movie isn’t the Drunken Beggar Fist or the Northern Style Shaolin Kick, but the Groaning Facepalm. If you have to ask, then count yourself fortunate to not have watched “CZ12”. But back when his films were actually watchable, the man had a heck of a lot of awesome moves. One of his most famous is the Snake Style of Kung Fu, as seen in 1978’s “Snake In The Eagle’s Shadow”. This movie arrived in the aftermath of Bruce Lee’s passing, and in that period, Hong Kong producers were frantically searching for an heir to the throne. Chan’s earlier forays into “serious” actioners had been met with tepid response, so the studios went in a totally different direction: action-comedy. And they found that Chan was the perfect fit, with a never-before-seen combination of effortless athleticism and goofy comic timing. “Shadow” was not only Chan’s breakthrough role, but it ushered in a new era for the martial arts genre. As for the moves, check out the opening credits sequence above, and tell me it doesn’t embody the grace, fluidity and precision of the snake. Brilliant stuff!
Electroshadow wishes you a very Happy Chinese New Year! May the Year Of The Water Snake bring you an abundance of fortune, so you can spend it on more movies!