My review of 'Drunken Master II'/'Legend of Drunken Master'
I hope you enjoy it!
DRUNKEN MASTER II (1994)
(Directed by Lau Kar-Leung and Jackie Chan)
"Arguably the best kung fu film of all time!"- Signed by MartialHorror.
Plot: The son of a respectable kung fu teacher gets involved in a conspiracy and has to save the day with drunken boxing.
This is going to be rather confusing, but “Drunken Master II” is known as “The Legend of Drunken Master” in the U.S, among other parts of the world. I remember seeing the movie long before it was released in the U.S when it was just titled “Drunken Master II”. It was one of my first Jackie Chan experiences, probably right after “Rush Hour” and “First Strike”. Of course, I absolutely loved it and made sure to see it on the big screen when it was released as “The Legend of Drunken Master” where I loved it just as much. This is because the film also has the distinction of being Jackie Chan's best movie and is one of the best martial arts ventures ever made. It gives me chills!
Wong Fei-hung (Jackie Chan) is the loud, trouble-making son of respectable kung fu teacher/physician, Master Wong (Ti Lung). He means well though and is skilled in kung fu, especially when it comes to drunken boxing. However, Master Wong forbids the stance, so Wong Fei-hung has to keep it a secret that he still uses it. Riding a train home, Wong Fei-hung gets in a fight with Master Fu Wen-Chi (Lau Kar-Leung; the films official director) and they accidentally mix up their luggage. Instead of his medical herbs, Wong Fei-hung grabbed a royal artifact (both were in similar packages, hence the confusion). From there, Wong Fei-hung gets dragged into a conspiracy headed by foreign officials and he will have to grow up and master drunken boxing in order to save the day.
By the 1990's, the kung fu industry was dying if it wasn't already dead. There, of course, were notable exceptions. Jet Li was finally becoming a star with the “Once Upon a Time in China” films and in the west, we were enjoying the works of Jean Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal (yeah, the west got the short end of the stick). Even Jackie Chan was struggling a bit, as his previous films were “Supercop 2” (cameo), “Crime Story” (average) and “City Hunter” (abysmal piece of *beep* But I remember in his autobiography, Jackie stated that he tried to go against trends in his films. When people were busy making old school kung fu films, Jackie was making “Police Story”. When people were busy making police films, Jackie was busy making “Drunken Master II”. The beauty of “Drunken Master II” is that you can see and feel the effort in every punch and kick. It's as if Jackie Chan wanted to make the best old school kung fu film ever during a time where old school kung fu films were considered obsolete.
To achieve this, Jackie hired some of the key players of the 70's (and 80's). Director/Actor Lau Kar-Leung (director of “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin") was brought on board along with actor Ti Lung (“The Magic Blade”). Lau Kar-Leung might have been a mistake for Jackie in retrospect because the two apparently clashed a lot (so Jackie took over directing duties for the final fight). But on film, you don't see the troubles at all. The film does provide many classical elements of kung fu. You get to see Jackie wield a sword (has Jackie even wielded a sword since his Lo Wei days?) as well as perform a few traditional classical moves. The weapon battles certainly looked like advanced versions of the old school classics, creating a nice sense of 'old meeting the new'. Yet they are all brought to perfection with the fights choreography.
Every move seems frenzied in their delivery, as if the fighters are really fighting. The choreography is quick, sharp and crisp. It's fast enough so that we can tell these guys are moving really fast, but not too fast to where we can't see anything. Plus, every movement seems driven by emotion, making the fights matter even if they are superfluous. The fighting styles are diverse and creative and watching Jackie and his opponents move in perfect unison is jaw dropping. I've seen plenty of martial arts classics, and few have ever topped this. To make things better, Jackie's use of his surroundings is exploited. Jackie fights under a train (more interesting than it sounds), in a boiler room (those burning coals look painful) and in an inn against a whole gang armed with axes (!!). The film almost always has people fighting, but Jackie is always sure to create diverse locations or situations so that the fights don't become stale.
What I also love about “Drunken Master II” is how the plot unfolds. Now don't get me wrong, the plot itself is nothing worth mentioning, but the way it develops is very fascinating. The whole train sequence felt very Hitchcockian in its set up and the story in general moves at the right pace. A major reason for its success is that the characters themselves are so damn interesting. The film is full of interesting people whose interactions intrigued me. I was always interested in what was going on, and this had nothing to do with the fight scenes. This is what cements this film as a great movie for me. I was interested in everything, not just the fight scenes. Finally, the cast all play their roles very well. Jackie especially is impressive in that he begins as the young punk but develops into a true hero by the end of the story. In fact, it was almost like he was channeling Jet Li's portrayal of the same character (“Once Upon a Time in China”) by the end of the movie. Excellent.
Now don't get me wrong, the film does have a few (minor) faults that can take away from your enjoyment if you let it. You might see the film as a little racist (all westerners are bad), although I honestly had no issue with it. You might also struggle with the films bi-polar tone, although that's Hong Kong cinema for you in general. One scene involving Master Wong and his wife (Anita Mui) is played for laughs and literally in that same sequence, there is some heavy drama between him and his son. Honestly, the only time the comedy bugged me tended to be surrounding Anita Mui's character, who is a bit too broad at times (she makes Jackie seemed subdued). Furthermore, the film implies that Wong Fei-hung has had an alcohol problem in the past, so her parenting skills come into question when she encourages him to drink so much. I also felt that the film, despite creating all of these interesting characters, had absolutely no idea how to use them. Some characters seem like they're going to become important, like Andy Lau's Inspector character or that girl who might be Jackie's love interest (or Jackie's rivals love interest; that subplot isn't resolved and is barely touched upon at all), but then they are forgotten. The films most infamous scene is at the very end, where we see what alcohol has done to Wong Fei-hung's brain. It is really a sobering downer when you think about it, but it's played in the most retarded fashion possible. The “The Legend of Drunken Master” release thankfully omits that, but it also makes Jackie's absence at the very end confusing. With that said, these scenes are only minor blips on the radar. They didn't bug me enough to effect my enjoyment of the film.
You might be wondering why I haven't mentioned the first “Drunken Master” here.........Um, I just didn't think about it. This film isn't really a sequel as much as its a remake (although I guess it can be argued as a sequel, as it never states how Jackie learned drunken boxing to begin with). The original is certainly an epic film, also with non-stop fighting with top notch choreography. But that is a great film within its limitations as a kung fu film. “Drunken Master II” expands its horizon and ultimately was a compelling film in its own right ALONG with being one of the most kick-ass kung fu films of all time as well. It's hard to top greatness, but “Drunken Master II” somehow managed to do so.
Violence: It's Rated R, but I'm not sure why. It has violence, but not that much.
Nudity: Jackie Chan is naked at one point in an unsettling scene, but we don't see anything.
Overall: “Drunken Master II”, or “The Legend of Drunken Master”, is a movie I would recommend to any fan or even potential fan if they haven't seen it. It's up there with the finest of its ilk ever made.
my reviews of martial arts and horror films