Review: Drunken Master II (a.k.a. The Legend of Drunken Master, 1994)

>> Sunday, February 15, 2009

HK/C-102m./Dir: Lau Kar-Leung and Jackie Chan/Wr: Edward Tang, Man-Ming Tong, Gai Chi Yuen/Cast: Jackie Chan (Wong Fei-Hung), Ti Lung (Wong Kei-Ying, Fei-Hung’s Father), Anita Mui (Mrs. Wong, Fei-Hung’s Step Mother), Lau Kar-Leung (General Fu Wen-Chi), Ken Lo (John), Ho Sung Pak (Henry), Felix Wong (Tsang)

Sixteen years after Jackie Chan had a career-making hit with the kung-fu comedy Drunken Master (1978), he returned to the part of hooch-happy hero Wong-Fei Hung in Drunken Master II. Chan was still youthful enough to pull off the part of the naughty boy who becomes an invincible fighter when fortified with fermented fluids; and to prove that he hadn’t lost a step, both the stunt work and the juicing were supercharged in the sequel. The resulting concoction turned out to be nothing less than the greatest alky action picture ever produced.

Having finished his tutelage under Sua Hua-Chi (who isn’t mentioned in this film), Wong Fei-Hung is back with his family and still causing mischief in the sequel. Returning by train from a shopping trip with his father, Fei-Hung hides a ginseng root in another passenger’s luggage to avoid paying tax. He ends up paying for his dishonesty with numerous cuts, bruises, and burns, when he retrieves the wrong package from the other traveler’s trunk. Instead of ginseng, Fei-Hung discovers that he has the Emperor’s jade seal, and he finds himself up against a British plot to smuggle China’s treasures out of the country. With high-kicking henchmen and ax-wielding thugs on his trail, Wong Fei-Hung needs something stronger than wine to add power to his punch this time around.

Many consider Drunken Master II to be Jackie Chan’s finest film, and I can’t help but agree. This fast-paced flick contains some of Chan’s greatest action set pieces, including the final showdown in an iron factory, where Wong Fei-Hung is kicked repeatedly and thrown into a pit of hot coals by Ken Lo (one of Chan’s real-life bodyguards), before saving the day by Hulking-out on industrial alcohol. Most of the stunt work is performed by Chan and the other actors themselves, which adds additional drama to each fall, body blow, and encounter with fire.

Although audiences for Drunken Master II are likely to be most interested in the kung-fu fight scenes, the film doesn’t skimp on story and the action emerges naturally from the narrative. The acting is also above average for a chopsocky flick. Jackie Chan is a natural comedian as well as an athlete, which helps with his numerous drunk scenes. At the same time, he is completely believable when called upon to display emotion and play it straight. Jackie receives tremendous support from the rest of the cast, including Ti Lung as Fei-Hung’s serious father and director Lau Kar-Leung as a General who also tries to keep China’s treasures out of the hands of smugglers. However, the real standout of the cast is Anita Mui, who nearly steals the film with her mugging in the part of Fei Hung’s scheming stepmother (despite being eight years younger than Chan in real life).

It is unlikely that future films will ever surpass Drunken Master II in terms of combined action and alcohol consumption. Soused cinema enthusiasts should consider it essential viewing.

Drinks Consumed--Red and white wine, cognac XO, and industrial alcohol

Intoxicating Effects--Staggering, slurred speech, brawling, physical violence, harmonizing, hiccups, destruction of property, vomiting, passing out, blowing bubbles, and temporary blindness and mental impairment

Potent Quotables--WONG KEI-YING: Fei-hung never forgets that he once won with drunken boxing. I’ve my reasons for not letting him use it.
FO SANG: There’s nothing wrong with drunken boxing.
WONG KEI-YING: You’ve to drink to fight it, and you may get drunk. Let alone fighting, you can’t even stand steady. He gets into trouble because of this.
FO SANG: Don’t drink so much then.
WONG KEI-YING: No, he must drink a proper portion before it becomes effective. He gets powerful but feels no pain when beaten; so it gives the wrong illusion of being powerful. A drinker knows he can’t stop drinking. Is it worth being a drunkard to use this move? Water floats but also capsizes boats.

Video Availability--When Disney released the film in the U.S., they dubbed it in English, made cuts, and changed the music and sound effects. The resulting film, re-titled The Legend of Drunken Master, is virtually unwatchable. This version is available on a Region 1 DVD from Buena Vista, but it should be avoided. The original, uncut version is available on a Chinese DVD from Thakral, which will play on Region 1 DVD players. However, the Chinese release is far from perfect. The aspect ratio on the Thakral DVD has been trimmed from 2.35:1 to 1.85:1, and the print shows wear and speckles. Hopefully, Drunken Master II will eventually receive an improved DVD release, but for now, the Thakral DVD is the best available.

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Jackie Chan played another drunken master in his 2008 team-up with Jet Li, The Forbidden Kingdom.

Drunken Master (DVD)
Drunken Master 2 [Letterboxed VHS]

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