The Legend of Drunken Master (Tsui kun II)

Director: Lau Ka Leung
Screenplay:Edward Tang, Tong Man Ming and Yeun Chieh Chi
Stars: Jackie Chan (Wong Fei Hung), Ti Lung (Wong's Father), Anita Mui (Wong'sMother), Felix Wong (Master Tsang)
MPAA Rating:R
Year of Release: 1994
Country: Hong Kong

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 itis surprising that it is just now getting released in the United States, especially sincesignificantly 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 Americanthemes 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 itshould 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 1979film that was one of Chan's major breakthroughs. Thus, some American viewers might beconfused when watching the sequel because the movie takes for granted that the audience isalready familiar with Wong Fei Hung, Chan's hero, and his propensity for "drunkenboxing."

"Drunken boxing" refers to Wong's use of alcohol to make him a better fighter. Although anutterly absurd concept, the idea is that when Wong gets drunk, he becomes almostundefeatable. At one point, it is explained that the alcohol makes him more flexible andincreases his tolerance for pain. This, of course, ignores other effects of alcohol like slowedthought processes, blurred vision, and loss of coordination. But, thisis a JackieChan movie, which means that logic and coherence are thrown to the wind in exchange forjaw-dropping kung fu kinetics and slapstick comedy.

The Legend of Drunken Master is revered by fans because it includes some ofChan's most incredible fight sequences. Many claim that it is his best work (even though hewas 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 fuor Jackie Chan, I'm not about to take a side, but having watched the film, I have a hard timeimagining that any kung fu fight sequences on celluloid could be more amazing than what ispresented here.

Most of the praise goes to the final fight sequence, which takes place in a steel mill. Unlikethe earlier sequences that involve Chan fighting off hoards of attackers, this is a one-on-onefight with the chief villain, played by Ken Lo Houi-Kang. Chan and Ken Lo gohead-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. Nocomputer-generated effects here. Just the real thing.

As far as plot goes, The Legend of Drunken Master is pretty much typical for aJackie Chan flick, meaning that it is largely beside the point. Dealing with an evil Britishambassador who is using his position to smuggle ancient Chinese artifacts out of China andinto top-paying museums in England, the plot meanders often and comes to a dead haltwhenever a fight is called for. Much of the film is largely comical, and there are some veryfunny 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 AnitaMui, 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, andChan 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 astage for his nonstop acrobatics. His expertly choreographed fighting is more akin to thedancing in a Fred Astaire movie than it is to any run-of-the-mill action extravaganza. Thatis to say, it is as graceful and smooth as it is violent, and it literally makes the physicallyimpossible possible.

Copyright ©2000 James Kendrick

Overall Rating: (3)

James Kendrick

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