The Legend of Drunken Master

Retro Review: The Legend of Drunken Master (1994)

The text below the break is part of a theatrical review originally published on October 22nd, 2000.

Here are some updated thoughts:  I’m not really into martial arts movies, but most of the Jackie Chan movies I’ve watched have been extremely fun.  For one simple reason:  they often mix martial arts action with elements of comedy.  This film is also known as Drunken Master II, which is a follow up to 1978’s Drunken Master which helped propel Chan to international stardom.  Chan’s career has spanned decades, starting as Bruce Lee’s stunt double, and eventually hitting mainstream success in the U.S. market.  He’s filmed over 100 movies, and in his early years did most of his own harrowing stunts, many times critically injuring himself.

Clearly his active action star days are behind him, but we have movies like The Legend of Drunken Master to remind us of his talent.[divider style=”dashed” top=”20″ bottom=”20″]

The Legend of Drunken Master starts out with a bumbled theft on a train heading back to Wong Fei-Hong’s hometown.  In an effort to avoid taxation on their cargo, Fei-Hong (Jackie Chan) hides a small box of ginseng in the suitcase of another passenger.  Upon returning to reclaim the ginseng, Fei-Hong notices another man stealing a box that is coincidentally similar to Fei-Hong’s box.  Picking up what he believes to be his box, Fei-Hong chases the thief.  After a brief confrontation with the man, we witness for the first time the fighting style known as “Drunken Boxing.” Seeing the train leaving without him, Fei-Hong is forced to leave the thief behind.  Little does he know that the box that he picked up contains a jade seal of the Emperor of China.

Upon returning home, we meet Fei-Hong’s stepmother, Madam Wong (played by Anita Hui). When a customer comes to pick up his ginseng, it is Madam Wong who covers for Fei-Hong losing the herbal root.  It is apparent that the relationship between Fei-Hong and his stepmother is a strong one, as we are shown in a series of hilarious scenes in which she manipulates Fei-Hong’s father to save Fei-Hong from getting in trouble.

It turns out that the jade seal of the Emperor was a part of a larger collection of Chinese historical artifacts that were being shipped out of the country by the English ambassador to China.  Infuriated by the loss, the ambassador sends a group of his best men to retrieve the artifact.  What follows is one of the best fight scenes that I have ever seen in any movie.  Using the style of “Drunken Boxing”, with the aid of a few healthy swigs of alcohol, Fei-Hong easily defeats the group of assailants.  While Fei-Hong’s technique is amazing, it is also quite humorous once he is drunk from the various bottles of alcohol thrown to him by his stepmother.

[box type=”error” align=”” class=”” width=””]The Legend of Drunken MasterWhen the British government is discovered smuggling precious Chinese artifacts out of the country, folklore hero Wong Fei-Hong uses his uniquely outlandish style of martial arts . . . Drunken Boxing . . . to fight the conspirators and salvage the valuables before it’s too late.  And the more Hong drinks, the more agile he becomes — able to fend of numerous attack with unbelievable moves.  With Chinese treasure and family price on the line, Hong steps up to every challenge.

The Legend of Drunken Master (1994)

Director:  Chia-Liang Liu
Starring:  Jackie ChanAnita Mui
Genre:  Action / Martial Arts
Media:  Film, 102 minutes
Rating: R
Budget: $10 million
Box Office: $11.6 million (USA)
Year: October 20, 2000 (USA), 1994 (Hong Kong)
4 out of 5 stars[/box]

We eventually come to find out that “Drunken Boxing” is forbidden in the Wong family.  Fei-Hong’s father believes that the technique has a serious drawback: alcohol addiction (not a real shocker). News of the fracas has reached his father, who disowns Fei-Hong and throws him out of the house.  Slobbering drunk, Fei-Hong is once again attacked by the same group of henchmen.  This time, there is no victory for Fei-Hong as he is too drunk to defend himself.  Instead, they decide to teach him a lesson by hanging him from a post in the middle of town, naked.  Upon seeing this, Fei-Hong’s father shows his soft side and accepts him back into the family.

Deciding to take action against the robbery of what Fei-Hong calls “China’s culture” Fei-Hong and a group of close friends stage an attack on the local steel mill, where the artifacts are being held.  The fight scenes that ensue show why this film had won the Best Action Choreography award.  Without giving too much away, let’s just say there is plenty of fire, a fall onto hot coals, falling objects and, of course, the unusual style of “Drunken Boxing.”  As far as ending sequences go, this is one of the most intense and exciting that I have seen in any movie.

While most Jackie Chan movies have just one star attraction, The Legend of Drunken Master features two.  One, of course, is Jackie Chan, with his amazing martial art abilities.  The other is Fei-Hong’s stepmother, Anita Hui, who steals the show with her humor and wit.  More than once, Hui upstages Chan and steals quite a few laughs.  The addition of this humor is welcome and complements the action.

While most martial arts films focus too much on the action and not enough on the plot, The Legend of Drunken Master does a decent job of developing the story.  Besides, Jackie Chan films aren’t supposed to have the greatest plots.  Most, if not all, Jackie Chan fans go to see the action. And The Legend of Drunken Master is not one to disappoint when it comes to action.

If you like Jackie Chan and can’t get enough of that awe-inspiring action, you will love the The Legend of Drunken Master.  If not, I suggest you go anyway just to witness the unusual “Drunken Boxing” fighting style.  It’s a refreshing break from traditional martial arts films.  Add in Jackie Chan’s sense of humor and Anita Hui’s sharp wit, and you have a well made, entertaining action flick.  It’s just too bad it took six years to reach the U.S. shores!

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Note:   I’m revisiting and re-posting many older articles (almost 200) I’ve written (or contributed to) over the years, either for my own purposes or as contributions to other sites now long digitally decayed and dormant.  These reviews/articles will appear in their nearly raw, unaltered form, with a few updated thoughts at the beginning of each.

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