I watched the original Drunken Master a little over a year ago, and found it reasonably amusing, if not a film that actually sticks with me all that much. So when I had the opportunity to watch Jackie Chan reprise his role as Wong Fei-Hung in 1994’s The Legend of the Drunken Master (originally released in Hong Kong as Drunken Master II), I thought I would see what impact the actor’s increased experience had.
The film was directed primarily by Chia-Liang Liu, but IMDb indicates that Chan himself took over in the end, due to conflicts with the director. Among these conflicts was a desire on the part of the director that Chan use the Huen-Gar style of fighting instead of drunken boxing, which puts me firmly in Chan’s camp on this and makes me wonder precisely what movie Chia-Liang Liu thought he was making.
If the star argues with you that’s one thing; if the title of the movie argues with you, that’s another.
Wong Fei-Hung is a young man training under his father (Lung Ti), but generally just fooling around and having fun. He is a master of drunken boxing; he has a powerful thirst, and his thirst gives him power, as the drunker he gets the more skilled he is at fighting. His father does not approve of Fei-Hung’s drunken boxing style — he sees the risks inherent in using alcohol to “loosen up” during a fight — and this causes conflict between the two. In an aversion of the “wicked stepmother” trope, however, Fei-Hung’s step-mother (Anita Mui) supports and actively encourages Fei-Hung’s drunken boxing, even tossing him wine bottles during a fight in which he defends her purse from being stolen.
Of course, he can’t stay away from fighting. A mix-up on a train leads to him being caught up in an investigation of a British ambassador (Louis Roth) who, along with a local Chinese businessman (Ken Lo), is smuggling Chinese cultural artifacts out of the country. It soon falls to Wong Fei-Hung to put an end to their scheme.
The villains also oppress the workers of an iron foundry, because the film needed a good set for the final fight.
The plot is fairly simple, and the humor in this action comedy is kind of crude. Not disgusting or vulgar; just rough and unpolished. Still, they throw enough jokes in that a few are bound to get a laugh or two. And the acting is pretty good; every character was entirely believable, except when their character was supposed to be a bit over-the-top, such as Fei-Hong’s step-mother and her deliberate over-acting. I watched the English dub of the film, and the voice synchronization was well above par; you can tell it’s dubbed, but it’s very easy to just sit back and forget.
But the main attraction of this feature is the fight scenes. And there it excels. The shortest, simplest sequences are still a lot of fun. And the final battle, which lasts about 20 minutes, is spectacular, with lots of flashy fighting and interaction with one large and dangerous setting. Jackie Chan directed that sequence himself, and it’s easily the best section of the film.
Since the plot and the humor are a bit on the thin side, the fighting is really the only reason to watch The Legend of Drunken Master. But if you enjoy a good fight scene, that’s really the only reason you need.