Drunken Master II

1994, Movie, NR, 102 mins


If you've never seen a martial arts movie, this is a great place to start. Having long ago abandoned the genre for more modern fare, Jackie Chan decided to return to it one more time. The result is a wholly entertaining mix of comedy and kung fu, all realistically staged with no wire or trampoline effects. In the wake of Chan's stateside success in such films as RUMBLE IN THE BRONX and RUSH HOUR, Miramax had the great idea of rereleasing this film in 2000 as THE LEGEND OF DRUNKEN MASTER, complete with English dubbing and a new soundtrack.

Canton, 1913. When his package is switched with that of a thief, young Wong Fei-hung (Jackie Chan) accidentally comes into possession of a valuable jade seal belonging to the Chinese emperor. It is one of a number of artifacts that are being smuggled out of the country by the British, with the aid of some Chinese mercenaries. The same Brits own a steel mill and are exploiting their workers to the breaking point.

Although Fei-hung has been forbidden to fight by his father, Wong Kei-ying (Ti Lung), he is forced to defend the family honor at the marketplace when he is insulted and his stepmother (Anita Mui) is struck by one of the mercenaries. The hotheaded Mrs. Wong encourages her stepson to use the forbidden drunken boxing style, and throws him a few bottles of wine for strength. But Fei-hung gets too drunk and, when his father arrives on the scene and tries to break up the fight, strikes him several times before recognizing him. Enraged, his father throws him out of the house. The drunken Fei-hung is later attacked again by the mercenaries, who strip him and suspend him over the town square bearing an insulting sign.

The Wongs are visited by the thief who switched packages with Fei-hung. He reveals that he is really Fu Wen-chi (Lau Kar Leung), a respected general who was returning the jade seal to the emperor. General Fu helps Fei-hung repel an attack by an armed gang, but he is shot to death. When Fei-hung and a comrade break into the British consulate to retrieve the jade seal, they are captured and badly beaten. The consul refuses to release him unless Mr. Wong agrees to sell him a piece of valuable land at a fraction of its worth.

Fei-hung learns that a shipment of stolen Chinese treasures are going to be taken out of the country in boxes of steel rods shipped from the steel plant, which has just fired all of its workers. In a climactic battle, Fei-hung (aided by some industrial strength alcohol) battles the mercenaries and retrieves the treasures.

DRUNKEN MASTER II has next to nothing in common with its 1978 predecessor, but it hardly matters--popular folk hero Wong Fei-hung has been the subject of hundreds of movies, including the contemporary ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA series. What matters is that Chan is back for one more go at the genre that made him a star, and nothing is held back. For a director he enlisted Shaw Brothers veteran Lau Kar Leung (who can trace his lineage back to the real Wong Fei-hung), who keeps things as realistic as possible. Unfortunately he and Chan disagreed on the set, and although Lau retains sole directorial credit, Chan is said to have reshot much of the film himself. Lau went on to direct the parody DRUNKEN MASTER III (1994), which pokes fun at Chan.

Although Chan is too old for the role (there's only a few years age difference between him and Ti Lung, who plays Fei-hung's father), he has no trouble portraying an impetuous youth. And though he was past 40 when DRUNKEN MASTER II was filmed, he doesn't seem to have lost much of his youthful grace and energy. There is a full ration of the spectacular action sequences Chan fans have come to expect, most notably the one in which Fei-hung and General Fu take on a small army of hatchet-wielding assassins, and (of course) the finale, in which Chan is almost outshone by the astonishing high-kicking of Ken Lo (aka Johnny Lo). In between the breathtaking action is a better than average story, with good supporting work from former Shaw Brothers star Ti Lung and a funny performance by Anita Mui (who played Chan's romantic interest in his next film, RUMBLE IN THE BRONX). As always, don't leave before the end credits, which features outtakes of stunts that didn't quite work. (Yes, he really did roll around in that bed of burning coals!) (Violence.) leave a comment

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