“A hero lives but a few seconds. Ma master holds on to his life. It is more important to forgive than to fight.”
But they don’t know Jackie Chan. When Popeye gets into a jam, he rolls out a can of spinach and down the hatch it goes. Next thing you know that old sailor pipsqueak is kicking butt and taking names. When Jackie’s Wong Fei-hung gets into a jam, he looks for a bottle of sake or maybe a 5th of Jack Daniels. When Jackie drinks, his enemies get the hangover. That’s the art of drunken boxing. The idea is that the alcohol loosens up your body and allows you to fight because you are limber and flexible.
The Legend Of Drunken Master is actually a sequel to an earlier film in which Chan plays the same drunken fighter character. In fact the Chinese title of the film is Jui Kuen II. The film was not originally intended for American audiences and was made in 1994 when Chan was at the peak of his Asian career but before he became the superstar he is in America. This English language version is somewhat different from the original with a lot of added dialog. In China there is more interest in the fight choreography and the style. There is often very little talking going on. For the less patient Americans, Chan adds a lot of the quips he has become famous for. They do not appear in the original film. This is a good chance to see classic Jackie Chan at the top of his game.
The plot of the film is rather silly and more beside the point. Wong (Chan) is on a shopping trip with his father (Lung Ti) who runs a local herbal medicine clinic and teaching school. In a scheme to avoid paying a customs fee for his father’s prized ginseng, Wong places it in the bag of a traveling ambassador who is not subject to search and taxes. In his effort to retrieve the root, he accidentally ends up with a valuable artifact which has been stolen from a local museum. Wong is so concerned about what his father will do when he discovers the missing ginseng that he hardly notices or understands that the thugs who stole the artifact are on him to get it back. It seems he has unwittingly stumbled into a gang who are smuggling many valuable cultural treasures out of China for profit. He may not understand why he’s being attacked, but Wong loves to fight, using his drunken boxing technique which embarrasses his father and causes strain in their relationship. He is assisted by his stepmother (Anita Mui) who is hiding her gambling habit and believes the thugs are after her for the jewels she’s secretly pawning to pay her debts. The film is pretty much a romp with Chan getting into various fights. There’s a rather sweet segment where Chan fights off the Ax Gang, who are about 250 guys with hatchets. Chan and company literally tear up the scenery for action and a few laughs along the way.
I’m not really sure how much of the comedy element exists in the original film. As I’ve mentioned, the fighting wit was added. But, the film does sport a lot of ridiculous and amusing moments, particularly involving Wong’s stepmother. I get the idea that none of it was meant to be taken very seriously. Chan still gives it his all. There are those credit outtakes that have become a tradition with Chan’s films. You can see the beating he takes to entertain us. I’ll bet the toughest football player in the NFL wouldn’t be able to take the punishment this man can tolerate. Lucky for us there are these Asian films that give us the opportunity to rediscover the magical martial arts of Jackie Chan.
There appears to be some trouble with the English dub. It’s obvious much of the film was changed. Chan, of course, voices his own character, but many of the voices really don’t fit the actors. A disappointing aspect of this altered version of the film is that it is also the cut American version that had been released previously. One might expect that the Blu-ray high definition release would be the perfect occasion to roll out the entire film. I suspect that will require more looping by Chan and perhaps the other voice actors were unavailable to complete the English dub.
The Legend Of Drunken Master is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC/Mpeg-4 codec. It’s a pretty uneven presentation. Detail is very sharp, and there are moments when colors really spark. But, those moments are the exception and not the rule. The picture is soft and muted most of the time. Black levels are average here. While the presentation certainly represents the best video yet available for the film, it never screams high definition. Chalk some of it up to it being a 1994 Asian production. I’m not sure more could have been done to put more pop into the presentation, however.
The DTS-HD Master Audio track is pretty solid for what it needs to do. I opted for the English language version here, so the dialog does tend to stand out and not fit the ambiance of the film. When you watch a movie this way, expectations for the audio have to be lowered considerably. You have to accept that likely nothing sounds like it was originally intended to sound. Where the audio does shine is in the low end. Sub response here is above average and shines most in the many fight sequences. Sure, the sound effects are exaggerated. That’s the style, after all. You get a good bit of punch to the punches.
Interview With Jackie Chan: (6:37) SD Mixed with film clips and bloopers, Chan is manic here. He talks a mile a minute. He makes some point to talk about the difference between Chinese and American audiences and that he originally thought this film couldn’t have succeeded with American viewers. He underestimates his fans.
This isn’t one of Chan’s best by a long shot. It’s rather silly in the end. Still, it beats almost anyone else out there doing martial arts films. I must confess that the genre never had much appeal for me back in the 70’s when the films had reached phenomenal popularity. But Chan changed all of that for most of us. He manages to entertain in a way no other screen martial artist has ever done before. So now even in a pretty weak film there’s enough fun to make the time just fly by. Forgettable? Sure. Silly? Absolutely. You’re going to like it anyway. Of course, you can make the worst plot work simply by inserting Jackie Chan. In the movie review business, “we call it cheating”.