Drunken Master 2 (1994)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:

Once Upon a Time in China

Armour of God

Iron Monkey

Drunken Master 2
a.k.a The Legend of Drunken Master

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Our rating: four LAVA® motion lamps.

Jackie Chan went to college
with George W. Bush?
It is a well-known fact that getting drunk makes a man attractive and charming, but can it also improve his kung fu? That's the question that Drunken Master 2, soon to be released in the U.S. as The Legend of Drunken Master, seeks to answer.

Made in 1994, Drunken Master 2 marks the first time that Jackie Chan starred in a pure chop-socky film since 1982's Dragon Lord. But with the resurgence of historical kung fu films in the early 1990's, spearheaded by Jet Li's Once Upon a Time in China, it seemed inevitable that Chan would return to the genre that made him famous. Drunken Master 2 is a sequel of sorts to the film that elevated Jackie to stardom: 1978's Drunken Master.

Chan's role is that of Wong Fei Hong, the same folk hero played by Jet Li in OUATIC. But unlike Li's mature portrayal, we are supposed to be seeing a much younger Wong Fei Hong. Think of it as Wong Fei Hong: Year One, an exploration of Fei Hong's path to becoming the responsible leader of legend. The only problem with this concept is that Jackie Chan is forty years old, and his character is supposed to be half his real age. He even has a good ten years on Anita Mui, who is cast in the role of Fei Hong's stepmother.

"How did I know you would choose
'rock?' Ancient Chinese secret."
The year is 1915 (or thereabouts), and Fei Hong is traveling by train with his father, Wong Kei Ying (Ti Lung, star of A Better Tomorrow). Fei Hong insists on a minor bit of con artistry to get a valuable ginseng root (in a special box) through customs without paying duty taxes, but his chicanery puts him in conflict with Fu (Lau Ka Leung), an elderly gent who steals an identical box from the same train. Because this is a kung fu film, Fei Hong and Fu don't even try to discern the other's motives, or make sure that they have the right boxes, or even say, "Hi." Faster than you can say "Spider-man vs. Captain America," Fei Hong and Fu are fighting underneath the train with spears and swords.

Fei Hong returns to the train with a box, but of course it is the wrong box. This one contains an Imperial royal seal. It is revealed that a group of smugglers, using a foundry as a cover and in league with the British, are conspiring to rob China of all its imperial treasure. Because Fei Hong has this valuable artifact he becomes the smugglers' target. In one memorable scene the smugglers arrange to have someone steal Madame Wong's purse. Fei Hong chases the thief down, only to be confronted by the smugglers' goons, apparently intent on testing Fei Hong's kung fu. The fight that follows becomes most remarkable when Madam Wong begins supplying her stepson with alcohol, allowing him to release the drunken master within.

Wong Fei Hong reconsiders
his choice of sidekicks.
For those readers unfamiliar with drunken boxing, it was established as a style in the original Drunken Master. Essentially, getting drunk guarantees that Fei Hong will feel no pain as he performs unpredictable moves based on the kind of things a drunk might do. So there is a lot of stumbling about, lurching erratically, etc. It's as if a bunch of frat boys got together and tried to come up with a fighting style. Topping off this boisterous combat technique is the habit of kung-fu masters to name every move after something else in life, loudly proclaiming that name as they execute the move. So we're treated to Hong Kong translations (which are questionable at the best of times) of phrases like "Han washing pot!" and "Barber cutting his own hair!" as the martial artists pull off some highly unlikely moves. Frankly, more realistic phrases like "Wino passing out in gutter!" and "College student vomiting repeatedly!" would have amused us more, but we guess that those would not be very good kung fu moves.

Did Jackie Chan also go
to college with Godzilla?
There are two fights in particular that have joined the pantheon of legendary kung fu action scenes. The first is a fight in a restaurant where Fei Hong and Fu take on dozens of goons armed with hatchets. As the fight goes on the building is utterly destroyed, and Wong improvises a weapon out of a bamboo pole that slices, dices and makes julienne fries. The final fight, between Jackie and his real-world bodyguard Ken Lo, is a masterful display of physical prowess and wordless comedy. It is in this scene we find out that irresponsible ingestion of alcohol makes you super strong. So listen to Wong Fei Hong, kids: get drunk and beat people up! It's the traditional Chinese way!

When he's not beating the rice noodles out of every stunt extra on screen or contorting his body in seven directions at once, Jackie Chan participates in the film's plot, which, like many Hong Kong productions, is historical with comedic overtones (heavy on the slapstick and low humor) and occasional flashes of dramatic realism. Since Hollywood has so greatly compartmentalized the genres of film (especially now that Blockbuster Video stores dot the landscape of America like stocky younger siblings of the omnipresent McDonalds restaurants), it's no wonder that we find a film with a great variety of story aspects refreshing. Some of the story aspects and character portrayals can be a bit grating (Anita Mui in particular has the ability to make sounds like a drowning cat), but on the whole it's an engaging little story about Fei Hong's struggle to find acceptance in the eyes of a demanding father. Oh yeah, and there's this little bit about Chinese pride and those who would rob the proud country of its historical treasures. Don't forget the romantic subplot. And did we mention that Jackie Chan kicks the collective ass of about two hundred hired thugs?

Own it!

Review date: 10/19/2000

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Trivia time! Lau also directed the film, though rumors was that Jackie kicked him off the film at the end. Moreover Lau's grandfather learned kung fu from Butcher Lam, one of the most famous students of the real Wong Fei Hong, as seen in Once Upon a Time in China and The Magnificent Butcher. Go back!