Thursday, May 15, 2014

Drunken Master (Zhi Quan, 1978)

What's going on, good people?!! The next film up for viewing on Hai!Karate is a gem among martial arts pictures, Drunken Master starring the legendary Jackie Chan!!! This film from Seasonal Pictures also stars Simon Yuen Siu-Tien and Hwang Jang Lee. The direction is all thanks to Yuen Woo Ping.

Drunken Master starts out with a man(Lee) walking into a ruined temple. He strides to the altar and finds a note directing him to kill Charlie Wei. This dude then finds Charlie Wei practicing in a field soon after. After mocking him a bit, the killer identifies himself as the infamous Thunderleg Yeh Tieh Hsin. Wei puts up a struggle all through the credits but is dispatched at the end of them. We then cut to a town and the local school run by Wong Kei Yin(Lam Kau). The star pupil - and troublemaker - is his son, Wong Fei Hung(Chan)who basically embarrasses his teacher in a fight.(Side note: in the English dubbed version, Fei Hung is referred to as Freddie. Why? I have NO clue. His dad is also called Robert Wong. *shrug8)Fei Hung's antics get him in a couple of scrapes back to back involving a young woman who he tries to molest but is beaten back by her mother(Linda Lin Ying)in brisk fashion. Fei Hung finds out later that it's actually his AUNT and that the young woman he pushed up on was his COUSIN. Eep. Then a local businessman comes to Kei Yin to complain about Fei Hung beating his hooligan son into near paralysis. Kei Yin is furious, and is on the verge of flogging Fei Hung until his aunt steps in and recommends punishment through rigorous training. Kei Yin relents. But Fei Hung doesn't really intend on repenting...

Fei Hung soon runs into trouble again at a local restaurant where he fleeces the owner out of a huge meal and tries to run. He's then caught by the staff and beaten enough that he winds up being forced to vomit up all the food and wine. This gets the attention of Beggar So(Siu Tien)who steps in and beats down everyone in the restaurant in vivid fashion. It turns out that Kei Yin enlisted So's help to train Fei Hung for a year. So begins the training, wine bottle ever present.

As Fei Hung trains, his cockiness doesn't subside. Not until he crosses paths with Thunderleg in a bathhouse. Excuse me, I meant to say gets MOLLYWHOPPED. To the point that he has to crawl under the crotch of Thunderleg just to live. The humiliation drives him to be humble and train harder. And it's needed - it turns out the local businessman still bears a grudge not only over his son but also over Kei Yin's blocking of a land grab. This sets in motion a plot that will lead to a final contest between Fei Hung and Thunderleg for honor and more.

Drunken Master is a fine blend of kung fu action and comedy that pulls you in bit by bit. Yuen Woo Ping keeps the pacing tidy but allows for the plot to not get too confusing or feel like there's stuff left out. Not bad for your second film as a director. His eye for action was enhanced due to his previous work as an actor and action director with Shaw Studios. Having a renowned father in Simon Yuen Siu-Tien doesn't hurt either. The film also benefits from the action direction of Hsu Hsia, who appears in the film as a minor boss. Jackie Chan further builds on his comedic gifts here, walking a fine line between slapstick and utterly corny humor. By this time his star was rising again, despite difficulties with director Lo Wei who was bent on making him the next Bruce Lee. His fighting skills and acrobatics thrill you as he goes through the 8 Drunken Gods style. (This is inspired by the Taoist Eight Immortals from Chinese mythology as well as Zui Quan or 'drunken alcohol fist' that is seen in various forms including Hung Gar, Chor Lei Fut and Wushu for instance.) Hwang Jang Lee hones his villainous chops well here. The sneer he puts on with the mustache? Magnificent arrogance that would make Jay-Z wince. And his flashy but fierce Taekwondo kicking style is also a key draw; watch how he deals with Fei Hung in the bathhouse. This actually would be the last time he and Jackie Chan would be in a film together. Their prior film, Snake In The Eagle's Shadow left a rough impression on Jackie. Aside from one incident(peep here for the recap), Hwang's kicking was too much for Chan to take, with Jackie getting another injury, this time to the ridge of one of his eyebrows. That led to him pointedly avoiding casting Hwang again for his own movies, opting to go with another famous Korean fighting actor, Whang In Sik. Their fight scenes are still epic however. The final fight alone will take you through some feelings with the impact of blows. And as for Beggar So? This flick led to Simon Yuen being further hailed as a crafty and venerable actor in Hong Kong cinema. Keep in mind that this year alone saw him star in FOUR classicly regarded pictures. I'll build on that another time though. He helps enhance the comedy as a drunken hero and father figure to Fei Hung. (Side note: Linda Lin Ying who plays the aunt at the beginning would only be in 3 more films after this, bringing her total to 7 overall. And she'd be in another picture with Simon Yuen.) When Drunken Master opened, it was a smash hit, earning nearly seven million dollars in total. The film would help Seasonal become better entrenched as a prime movie studio and as a leader in making kung fu comedies at that time. It was also well received for the many martial arts styles in the fight scenes as well as being a comical play on the Wong Fei Hung saga, which to this point was done with a bit more seriousness given that he is a Chinese cultural hero. The flick has had wide-ranging cultural influence across the globe, from video games like Tekken to anime such as Naruto and Yuyu Hakusho and Dragonball Z to be exact. Drunken Master is a joy to watch. If you haven't seen it, correct that error immediately. For real. And if you have, I know you have that as one of your go-to faves like I do.


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