Jui kuen II (The Legend of Drunken Master)

Directed by Lau Ka Leung and Jackie Chan
Starring: Jackie Chan, Ti Lung, Anita Mui, Lau Ka Leung, Ho Sung Pak.
MPAA Rating: R for violent content.

Review by Matt Heffernan <matt@filmhead.com>
October 26, 2000

After the release of Drunken Master in 1979, Jackie Chan became an international film star. However, is wasn't until the time that the sequel was made that he finally caught on in America. Now, his Hong Kong films have been systematically imported for years, picking up a backlog of work that is unfamiliar to the Western Hemisphere. Most of them, to put it gently, suck. Mindless action with uninspired stories and really bad English dubbing. After seeing Drunken Master 2 (which is being released theatrically as The Legend of Drunken Master, since the first went direct to video here), I had to wonder: why have they held back this gem for six years? They even released it to video while his lesser work did mediocre business at the box office. Now, it is being given its proper recognition and a wide release.

Chan reprises the role of Wong Fei-hong fifteen years later in real life, but his character is still supposed to be the same age. He lives with his father, Master Wong Kei-ying (Ti Lung), who runs a marital arts school from their home. On the side, they trade in medicinal herbs (no, not what you're thinking). In a complicated mix-up on a train, Fei-hong accidentally switches a box of ginseng with a box containing an ancient Chinese relic that the British Ambassador was going to take back to England.

This is during the late imperial age of China, when the Industrial Revolution had finally taken hold, but those bringing the new technology (namely, the British) were also stealing the culture. This situation gets Fei-hong involved in a bloody conflict between the British industrialists, organized crime, and disenfranchised factory workers.

Oh yeah, I nearly forgot to explain the title. Wong Fei-hong, who is based on a real Chinese folk hero (also depicted in Jet Li's Once Upon a Time in China series), was a master of the "drunken boxing" style of kung fu. It involves loose body movements and a stance that makes the fighter look a little tipsy. This style makes for some very interesting fight scenes, especially one where it is revealed that great amounts of liquor really help make the style work.

So, this isn't exactly the most politically correct film of the year. However, it is this joyful irreverence that sets The Legend of Drunken Master apart from others in the genre. Also, unlike other martial arts films, this one has actual characters. Fei-hong's stepmother, played by Anita Mui, is incredibly funny and tough at the same time. Sometimes it goes quite a bit over the top, as expected, but the combination of laughs and kicks keeps it interesting.

To summarize: the action is better, the story and characters are funnier, and the dubbing (while not entirely welcome) is done with far greater care than any of Chan's recent imports. Oddly enough, the film made only $3.8 million last weekend, even though it should have a much wider appeal than Rumble in the Bronx or Supercop. Perhaps the core audience has already seen it on video, and those dollars are lost. The next Chinese import to hit wide release will most likely be Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. That film should avoid the same mistake, since it just came out in Hong Kong in July. Strike while the iron is hot, Grasshopper.

For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Jui kuen II (1994)

Here's some merchandise for sale at Amazon.com
The Legend of Drunken Master (2000) -- VHS
The Legend of Drunken Master (2000) -- DVD

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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan