The master returns – and he’s drunk!
Every time Jackie Chan has a new hit movie, it means we get to see one of his old classics imported to America for a theatrical release (and a couple more on video). This is all good, though sometimes the editing is a little harsh (as in Operation Condor).
With his big hit Shanghai Noon arriving on video this month, 1994’s Drunken Master 2 is being given a small theater release under the understandable re-title Legend of the Drunken Master.
This is considered by many to be Chan’s best movie, and some even hold that it’s the best martial arts film ever made. I can’t argue with that – I’ve seen this movie in the theater three times and many more on video, and I never get tired of it.
Chan again assays the role of the young Wong Fei-hung, a real life physician and cultural hero at the beginning of the 20th century. There have been movies about this character going back to the 1920s in China – up through the hit Once Upon A Time in China series. Chan first played Wong in 1979 and it made him a star. This was one of the few times that Master Wong’s ‘drunken fist’ style – in which the user’s liquidity, strength and stamina increase with the use of alcohol – was exploited. Here, 15 years later, he plays the character only slightly older – and pulls it off pretty well.
Certainly the years have hardly slowed him down, just made him more creative. The plot – plenty relevant in the years before the reunification – concerns how Wong discovers a conspiracy by British officials (and their local cronies) to steal hundreds of precious Chinese artifacts. This brings him into violent conflict with the conspirators, and leads him to again adopt his drunken boxing ways (after promising his father he wouldn’t). The various conflicts are finally resolved in a huge battle in a steel plant.
The film certainly features some of the most amazing kung fu fights ever filmed. It’s also one of Chan’s funniest pictures (mostly due to the presence of Anita Mui as Wong’s young step-mom), and even the drama works for the most part. But the fights are the real reason you should NOT miss this film.
Dimension has cleaned up their act and has released the well-dubbed English version pretty much intact. The only real noticeable difference – outside of new music cues – is that they go out of their way to remind everyone to drink responsibly and that “many drunken boxers become alcoholics”. This PC attitude is most noticeable at the end, when “Uncle Bill” Tung is told that Fei-hung is still recovering from his drinking and can’t join the victory party. In China, the scene continues with Chan apparently a mental cripple from drinking grain alcohol – and it’s played for laughs!