Chan Plays It Cool in 'Legend of Drunken Master'

You really have to be in the right mood to watch Jackie Chan movies. Legend of Drunken Master, Chan's newest American release (though it was released in Hong Kong and Asia in 1994 and was shelved for six years before being revamped for American audiences) is definitely sobering. It's a funny movie, but only in the way that funny, badly dubbed Asian kung-fu movies with stupid appeal can be.

Chan plays Wong Fei-Hong, the legendary hero of the obscure martial art of drunken boxing, where the ingestion of lion-share quantities of alcohol empowers him with the ability to draw on his superhuman ability to build a higher intolerance to pain and fight many, many men simultaneously complete with a large dose of "Asian pink." As in many action films, Drunken Master revolves around a extremely thin plotline: During a mix-up on a train, Fei-Hong inadvertently takes home a stolen Chinese relic; he attempts to return the relic back while the British bad guys that stole "China's history" spend the rest of the movie in hot pursuit of him gangster style. These intense conflicts are punctuated by moments of melodrama and "emotional climaxes" when the story develops ever so slightly to include the dilemma of bringing honor to his father's family and the nationalistic significance of Chinese culture.

Directed by Lau Ka Leung, Drunken Master attempts to work off of the fun of Chan's trademark kick-ass fighting style, humorous personality and magnetic charisma. Chan is having a grand old time playing a character who is half his real age and whose father is probably younger than he is; yet his characteristic grin emanates with boyish appeal and ingenuous complacency.

Chan's movies are known for their remarkable action sequences, and though the first one is somewhat disappointing because, confined by the limits of space (it takes action under a bridge like area and a train), it is limited in its action potential. However, when Chan takes on 20 axe-wielding hoodlums bare-chested in one scene, and at the end, in a never before 20 minute steel-factory scene, when he falls into flaming coals and vomits after drinking too much alcohol, it may be worth hanging around sitting through the thin plotline and slow jokes.

The infamous outtakes featuring Chan performing all his own stunts at the end of Chan's movies, as always, are one of the best parts of the film, but they are surprisingly short in Drunken Master. Nonetheless, one shot stands out in particular, showing a glimpse of Chan's pained expression right after he falls into the coals at the end of the film, a stunt that left him permanently scarred from burns.

Jackie Chan is considered cool, and despite the fact that Legend of Drunken Master has long been a favorite among his Asian fans and won Best Action Choreography (Chia-Liang Liu) at the 1995 Hong Kong Film Awards, it's a difficult film to digest if you're in a semi-serious or just a typical mood. It's very difficult not to appreciate the humor of a line (and I am serious that this line was in the movie) that goes, "Fei-Hung, don't be ashamed. When we were little kids, we used to go naked all the time!"


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