Alcohol is to Wong Fei Hung (Shanghai Noon’s Jackie Chan) as spinach is to Popeye: Drinking fills him with a weird power and turns him into a goofy fighting machine set to kick ass. Picture Dudley Moore’s Arthur at his drunken best possessed by the spirit of Bruce Lee and that’s the Drunken Master.
Fei Hung’s father, Wong Kei-Ying (Ti Lung, best known in A Better Tomorrow ) has a dim view of the drunken boxing style. Feeling it often leads to alcoholism, he swears his son to sobriety. But when his wily stepmother, Madame Wong (Rumble in the Bronx’s Anita Mui), finds him losing the fight to recover her jewels, she breaks open the booze. It’s bottoms-up and down-the-hatch as Fei Hung becomes the Drunken Master.
Jackie Chan had been making waves for years before he rode them to our shores, went Hollywood and struck gold with 1998’s Rush Hour. The Legend of Drunken Master is a reconditioned hit from his Hong Kong days, Drunken Master II (1994), proving that old martial arts flicks don’t die — they just get edited, dubbed and rereleased.
Loosely based on the early-20th century exploits of Wong Fei Hung, Legend’s plot is cocktail-napkin thin. But who cares about the plot anyway? Kung fu flicks just need enough story to get the action rolling and string the “good parts” together.
And the good parts are great. Blades fly like a blender set on puree in an opening sword fight; Fei Hung and company take on a legion of ax-swinging hoodlums; and former Muay Thai champion Ken Lo’s (Rush Hour) feet flash like lightning against Chan in the final battle. When the jokes miss the mark, Legend sags, but overall Chan proves himself to be the Buster Keaton of kung fu, brewing up a unique blend of martial arts and slapstick comedy.
E-mail James Keith La Croix at [email protected].