The Legend of Drunken Master (Tsui kun II)
Screenplay : Edward Tang, Tong Man Ming and Yeun Chieh Chi
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1994
Stars : Jackie Chan (Wong Fei Hung), Ti Lung (Wong's Father), Anita Mui (Wong's Mother), Felix Wong (Master Tsang)
Originally released in Hong Kong back in 1994, The Legend of Drunken Master (Jui kuen II) is considered by Jackie Chan fans to be one of his finest movies, and it is surprising that it is just now getting released in the United States, especially since significantly lesser Chan vehicles like Rumble in the Bronx (1995) and Mr. Nice Guy (1997) made it here first. The Legend of Drunken Master is a more "pure" kung fu movie, as it is a period film and it doesn't try to overlay clumsy American themes and locations in order to make it more palatable to a North American audience. Granted, the movie is dubbed into English, which always makes it more ludicrous than it should be. But, it is a comedy after all, so a few unintended laughs can't really hurt it.
The Legend of Drunken Master is a sequel to Drunken Master, the 1979 film that was one of Chan's major breakthroughs. Thus, some American viewers might be confused when watching the sequel because the movie takes for granted that the audience is already familiar with Wong Fei Hung, Chan's hero, and his propensity for "drunken boxing."
"Drunken boxing" refers to Wong's use of alcohol to make him a better fighter. Although an utterly absurd concept, the idea is that when Wong gets drunk, he becomes almost undefeatable. At one point, it is explained that the alcohol makes him more flexible and increases his tolerance for pain. This, of course, ignores other effects of alcohol like slowed thought processes, blurred vision, and loss of coordination. But, thisis a Jackie Chan movie, which means that logic and coherence are thrown to the wind in exchange for jaw-dropping kung fu kinetics and slapstick comedy.
The Legend of Drunken Master is revered by fans because it includes some of Chan's most incredible fight sequences. Many claim that it is his best work (even though he was 40 years old when it was filmed), and that the choreography is more intricate, complex, and demanding than any of his other films. Not being an expert on either kung fu or Jackie Chan, I'm not about to take a side, but having watched the film, I have a hard time imagining that any kung fu fight sequences on celluloid could be more amazing than what is presented here.
Most of the praise goes to the final fight sequence, which takes place in a steel mill. Unlike the earlier sequences that involve Chan fighting off hoards of attackers, this is a one-on-one fight with the chief villain, played by Ken Lo Houi-Kang. Chan and Ken Lo go head-to-head for an astounding 20 minutes, each displaying what he does best. For Ken Lo, this involves incredible flexibility. For Chan, it is sheer speed. The fight is rapid, violent, acrobatic, and utterly exhilarating. At one point, Chan is pushed into a bed of red-hot coals, and because this a Jackie Can movie, there is no doubt that he really did it. No computer-generated effects here. Just the real thing.
As far as plot goes, The Legend of Drunken Master is pretty much typical for a Jackie Chan flick, meaning that it is largely beside the point. Dealing with an evil British ambassador who is using his position to smuggle ancient Chinese artifacts out of China and into top-paying museums in England, the plot meanders often and comes to a dead halt whenever a fight is called for. Much of the film is largely comical, and there are some very funny scenes between Chan and his stern father (Ti Lung) and his protective step-mother (Anita Mui). In fact, if someone comes close to stealing the show from Chan, it is Anita Mui, whose headstrong and manipulative step-mother is a real piece of comedic work.
However, in the end, The Legend of Drunken Master is about Jackie Chan, and Chan delivers everything that could possibly be expected. Fighting with chairs, tables, poles, sticks of bamboo, fire, and just about everything else, Chan turns the screen into a stage for his nonstop acrobatics. His expertly choreographed fighting is more akin to the dancing in a Fred Astaire movie than it is to any run-of-the-mill action extravaganza. That is to say, it is as graceful and smooth as it is violent, and it literally makes the physically impossible possible.
©2000 James Kendrick