Drunken Master II

Reviewed by YTSL
 

For many Jackie Chan fans, this 1994 film is his finest piece of work.  What's probably even more indisputable is that this belated but triumphant sequel to the 1978 production which made the world's most masochistic actor into Asia's biggest movie star set a standard which he -- and some will say, forget others -- has since been unable to better.  And lest it not yet be clear here:  We are talking about this traditional kungfu production's containing some of the most amazing fight sequences ever choreographed, enacted and filmed; including a seven minute long one between a then forty year old man and Ken Lo at the end of the movie that took -- yes, really! -- nearly four months to shoot, and involving -- no, I am NOT kidding! -- Chan's ending up in, struggling across, then scrambling out of a bed of real...hot...burning... coals!

Jackie and Lau Kar Leung
Writing about his favorite Chan film, Bey Logan states that:  "Against the odds, Jackie Chan has managed to distill all his talent into a film that both captures the spirit of the first "Drunken Master" and transcends it" (In Stefan Hammond's "Cine East", 2000:127).  Among the obstacles faced by DRUNKEN MASTER II were:  One of the troubled collaborative effort from the Hong Kong Director's Guild's three directors getting fired midway through its production (and another going uncredited for official purposes); the man originally slated to be the hero's formidable opponent in the final fight being found to not be fit enough to endure what was required of him; and the movie's script undergoing so many constant and radical rewrites that characters (including a female snake handler and a fishmonger skilled at a rival style of kungfu along with those played by Lau Kar Leung, Andy Lau, Chin Kar Lok) end up coming and going without all that much logical explanation.
Jackie and Anita Mui
Something else that could have posed major problems -- but actually was successfully enacted -- was ex-Shaw Brothers star Ti Lung's being asked to play the father of someone who was only about ten years younger than him in real life, plus the audience's being asked to accept the possibility that an actual chronological junior of the lead actor of DRUNKEN MASTER II, Anita Mui, could be his character's stepmother.  This (re)viewer additionally had to deal with the concept of Jackie Chan playing Wong Fei Hung rather than Jet Li, and as a generally juvenile master of the deceptively stupid-seeming art of "drunken boxing" rather than a mature hero and elegant exponent of "no shadow kicks" and lion dancing (N.B. I actually had caught "Drunken Master" in the cinema when it was first released in East Asia -- and have also seen Kwan Tak Hing and others portray the Cantonese legend -- but "Once Upon a Time in China" I, II and III presented me with my ideal portrait of the individual who really did live from 1847 to 1924).
Anita, Jackie and Ti Lung
Yet DRUNKEN MASTER II does manage to thoroughly move and amuse as well as enthrall (I think particularly and respectively of the confrontation between the soused Wong Fei Hung and Wong Kei Ying, pretty much everything Anita Mui's character did, and the "two against many" fight involving the axe gang along with Ken Lo's kicking technique and Jackie Chan's virtuoso display of the acrobatic drunken boxing style).  The fact that it qualifies as a dramatic and comedic offering as well as an incredible action fest is a tribute to evergreen Ti Lung (whose presence added greatly to this film), the as-talented-as-she-is-extroverted Anita Mui (whose comic antics nearly stole the show) and, of course, the ever-suffering JC (who is the film's principal actor plus most influential director).
If truth be told, the big budget movie's plot remains neither all that coherent nor cohesive.  However, its major players were able to nimbly translate what probably was a ham-fisted (at no time more so than at the film's end) as well as heavy-handed script -- about the personal trials, emotional travails, inadvertent involvement in national(ist) politics, physical triumphs and (sudden) spiritual maturing of the young Wong Fei Hung -- into something emotionally powerful in addition to visually spectacular on celluloid.  Either that or you the viewer just won't care all that much since the action sequences really are quite plentiful as well as do rock to such an extent that on the face of them alone, this clearly ambitious production deserves to be termed an outright, genuine, "must see", "only Hong Kong could" -- nay, "only Jackie Chan can" --classic!
Ken Lo and Jackie in the coals



My rating for the film:  9.