Film Commentary [10-31-00]
Jackie Chan opus - - The Legend of the Drunken Master
Genre: martial arts action/comedy
Grade = A-

American distribution poster Jackie Chan’s second film to be released this year was actually filmed in 1994 in Chinese and is now being released in a dubbed format. Set in the 1930's during the days of the Republic of China, Chan portrays Wong Fie Hung, the son of a doctor who is also the master of drunken martial arts called Drunken Boxing. That is, when he drinks alcohol or acts like he has, his speed and agility are increased.

The film opens with Wong, his father and an apprentice boarding a train after a shopping trip for rare medicinal herbs. Wong accidently gets a hold of a jade imperial seal that the villainous British ambassador purchased and is selling to a British museum. The Ambassador is aided in this nefarious enterprise by several peccable Chinese men who also just happen to be expert martial artists (who could have foreseen such a thing). And so the story unfolds, Wong has to prevent them from taking their precious Chinese cultural heritage out of the country. (Boo Booooo, bad English imperialistic running dogs!)

Needless to say, the story is extremely simple, the dialog is hackneyed, the British villains are cardboard and the dubbing is dubious at best. Who cares. This film possesses some of the best action scenes I have seen since last year’s The Matrix. This film makes Mission: Impossible II look like Remains of the Day. While the first third of the film is slowly (too slowly) used to establish the characters and the story and has only one measly fight scene, the film thereafter takes off like a rocket. One great fight scene after another. One of the memorable ones has Jackie and elderly Chinese secret agent attacked by an army of 50 black-clad ax wielding gangsters.

Incredibly, the entire last twenty minutes of the film are one long fight scene. It culminates with a fight between Jackie and a character portrayed by Thai kickboxing champion and Chan’s real life body guard Ken Lo. This fight scene contains the most incredibly complex choreography I have ever seen in a movie. They jump, flip, kick, and spin around trying to defeat one another, both with a speed that is nothing less than breathtaking. Lo has the wildest footwork that just has to be seen to be believed. While this year’s Jet Li film Romeo Must Die possessed incredible leaps and kicks, they were performed with the actors using wire harness to jump and leap around only to have the wire later erased by special effects wizardry. All these action stunts are performed by the artists without the aid of computer generated or technological visual aids. They are very real stunts and thus an incredible achievement. With the advent of the new computer technology, this is probably one of the last of these kind of films that will be produced, at least those that are shown in the US.

This film is actually the sequel to 1978's Drunken Master which made Jackie Chan a star in Hong Kong. Other than Chan and Lo, most notable was the comic performance of Anita Mui as Jackie’s stepmother. The rest of the cast were for the most part forgettable. It is also important to note that Chan at certain points actually looks older the that man portraying his father. Jackie isn’t getting any younger and even though he now has his own Saturday morning cartoon show. The film is boosted by the scenes of the City of Shanghai were the movie was actually filmed. Of course the final credits also include the famous Jackie Chan blooper reel where you get to see him suffer various injures sustained during the filming of the stunts, including his being set on fire several times.

Go see this film on the big screen while you have the chance. The action has a much greater impact than on video. You may know go to your dictionary and look up the word ‘peccable’.

Jackie Chan showing the Asian trait of becoming blush faced when drunk
International distribution poster

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