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Legend of Drunken Master, The (2000)

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Score: 9/10

Genre: Martial Arts Running Time: 1 hr. 42 min.

Release Date: October 20th, 2000 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Lau Kar-Leung Actors: Jackie Chan, Lung Ti, Anita Mui, Felix Wong, Low Houi Kang, Ho-Sung Pak, Andy Lau, Lau Kar-Leung

“I

t’s more important to forgive than to fight.” But it’s infinitely more fun to watch fighting than forgiving, so it’s wise for Jackie Chan’s lead character to ignore this advice from his father (played by Lung Ti). Although “The Legend of Drunken Master” (confusingly, originally named “Drunken Fist II,” or “Jui kuen II” in its native Hong Kong, and serving as a sequel to “Drunken Master” from 1978) uses the same humorous, light-hearted approach as many of Chan’s later films, the martial arts sequences are some of his absolute best, utilizing a particularly ostentatious, heavy-hitting, lightning-quick technique that evinces incredibly creative choreography.

In order to avoid paying taxes, Wong Fei-hung (Jackie Chan) hides his ginseng in another man’s suitcase before boarding a train. Later, he discovers it’s been switched with a British Museum of Art artifact – the jade seal of the Emperor. The substitution is part of a corrupt English ambassador’s plot to steal valuable Chinese antiquities, which is complicated when British soldiers attempt to retrieve the item and the skilled Fei-hung gets in their way – teaching henchman Henry (Ho-Sung Pak) a lesson in public humiliation.

A combination of Fei-hung’s gambling, his mother’s (Anita Mui) obnoxious pestering, the loss of the herbal medicine, and his lack of restraint when it comes to drinking and quarreling leads to his father, Wong Kei-ying, disowning him. Once on his own, Fei-hung is attacked by Henry and his thugs and shamed in front of the whole town in return for his earlier display. His father eventually unites revolting steel mill workers, which leads to an infiltration attempt of the British embassy that reveals a further plot to take over Wong’s land – and an intense showdown in a burning warehouse. The considerably lengthy, very violent, and wickedly inventive climax is one of the most jaw-droppingly brilliant martial arts sequences ever committed to celluloid.

If that weren’t enough, an early fight scene under a train provides a frenzied, claustrophobic location for an impossibly fast-paced duel – a most impressive arrangement in such a purposefully cramped space. Later, with the help of General Fu Wen-Chi (Lau Kar-Leung, who also directed the film), Fei-hung must battle a hundred-man ax gang in a two-story restaurant. Here, Chan’s popular prop-based choreography comes into play, making use of tables, stools, bamboo sticks, and benches. It’s humorous, awe-inspiring, and brutal all at once.

And to top it all off, despite the drunken boxing style typically existing just for show, Chan puts it to exceptional use in full-on combat, giving perhaps the greatest cinematic demonstration of the undeniably flamboyant art form – and of his significant talents for physical endeavors and unequalled staging. Additionally employing a surplus of villains, he’s able to accommodate a multitude of showdowns, each one more impressive than the last. “The Legend of Drunken Master’s” fight sequences are simply divine in their layouts and instrumentations (the outtakes at the end shed extra light on the painstaking rehearsals), making this flick an absolute must-see kung-fu extravaganza.

– Mike Massie

 



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