Monday, November 10, 2008

Movie Review: Drunken Master

And at last, after much delay, we finally get to the point in my Jackie Chan Film Festival where we are firmly in the "classic" era. He has largely escaped the Lo Wei influence and shown that his more comedic persona can result in blockbuster success (at least in China - success in America was still quite a ways off). This movie borrow a lot from the immediately preceding Snake In The Eagle's Shadow in terms of personnel, both in front of and behind the camera. Most specifically, Yuen Siu Tien returns in his "Sam The Seed" persona (here called Su Hua Chi), the old beggar whose age and appearance hides his kung-fu prowess. This time around, rather than playing an old man that Jackie's character meets by happenstance, here Jackie (playing the legendary Wong Fei-Hung) is instead handed over to Su for training by his father, who has disowned his son in the wake of a series of misdeeds.

Actually, for much of the film, Jackie plays Wong as pretty much a jerk who deserves the torture heaped upon him during the film. And if you like seeing Jackie get tortured, then this is the film for you - he gets into fights at the market (and gets beat up) and at his house (and gets beat up some more), and then some more during his training. Even during the inevitable showdown at the end, it isn't a case of an unbeatable Wong destroying his opponent - they are actually fairly evenly matched for much of the fight, and Wong takes his lumps several times.

For a movie called Drunken Master, there sure isn't very much drinking going on. The drunken boxing styles aren't even mentioned until over an hour into the film, and then (as usual) Jackie goes from reading a book to a near expert in no time at all. We get a lengthy montage of Wong demonstrating all of the Eight Drunken Gods (except for the feminine Miss Ho style, which he finds he needs later on), but there really isn't any learning curve shown on film - he just goes from novice straight to master.

There is a good variety of fight scenes here. In particular, an early fight scene set in a market that has Wong up against a sword-wielding noble and a conman who uses his head as a weapon are particularly well-choreographed. Later scenes get more into the straight acrobatic hand-to-hand combat style we've seen in a few Chan film now, and get a little more repetitive, but are still generally well-done. And for those that have seen the later Drunken Master II (aka The Legend Of Drunken Master), the drunken boxing doesn't get into quite the wild frenzy here as in that later film.

I'm pretty stingy with the five-star ratings, so I'm only going to grant this one four stars. But it is clearly the class of the festival so far. Next up, Jackie takes the director's chair for the first time in another film whose title might clue you into the fact that it isn't to be taken too seriously: Fearless Hyena.

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