Kung Fu Movie Retrospective: "Drunken Master 2"; "醉拳2”
Previous Kung Fu Movie Retrospectives have dealt with movies from another era that may have been forgotten in this mad rush towards CGI and wire-fu; however, this K.F.M.R deals with modern kung fu genre’s biggest bankable star, Jackie Chan (成龙; Chéng lóng), in what may be a case of his most under-rated movie as well as his ultimate masterpiece.
In the 70’s a huge cultural void was left in the wake of the untimely death of Bruce Lee. Of the many imitators that would follow, Jackie Chan made a name for himself by demonstrating his superb martial art skills as well as a new type of film persona that was all at once funny, didn’t take himself too seriously, and most importantly, likable. While he was already a big star in Asia, Jackei not only wanted to break out in Hollywood films (which he did in “The Cannonball Run” (1981)) but also desparately wanted to bring Chinese film-making into the modern era. Jackie wanted to tell contemporary stories rather than the traditional stories that all the studios were stuck on. Jackie would eventually break out in with the enormously successful “Police Story” (1985) that would define the modern action-comedy kung fu genre film.
And so the release of 1994’s “Drunken Master 2” （醉拳2; pinyin Zuì quán) is quite important in its own right as it was a return to form for Jackie to the traditional Chinese kung fu film, a genre he hadn’t done since “The Young Master” (1980). While Jackie didn’t cut his hair to resemble the long queues worn by men during the Qing Dynasty, he did team up with legendary fight choreographer and director Lau Kar-leung (刘家良; pinyin Liú Jiāliáng) to make an incredible genre movie with unbelievable fighting set pieces, one after another.
With a convoluted plot that involves the smuggling of precious historical treasures, colonial expansion, a strike-breaking iron smelting factory as well as the forced closing of Po Chi Lam, “Drunken Master 2” is a rollicking ride that is packed with humor, melodrama, slapstick, tragedy and action action action. While it is a sequel only in name to the first “Drunken Master” (made in 1978), this film features stars like 70’s icons Ti Lung and the director Lau himself, Anita Mui portraying Jackie’s step-mother while being a full ten years younger than Jackie at the time, and even a cameo by Andy Lau.
Besides making an entertaining film that thrills and provides a lot of laughs, by taking on the well-worn role of Wong Fei-Hung, by far Chinese cinema’s most prolific film character, Jackie shows us what may be the best cinematic demonstration of the esoteric martial art of “drunken kung fu”; a style of fighting that distracts your opponent by imitating the actions of an inebriated person. Another way to describe “drunken kung fu” is to pretend to be off-balance while throwing very unorthodox strikes and kicks.
“Drunken kung fu” is based upon the legend of the Eight Immortals who were so fond of alcohol that they spontaneously developed this style of fighting to fight after a banquet. Jackie takes great lengths to try to make each one separate from the rest, and even uses recurring moves to demonstrates their practical use as a martial arts technique.
Perhaps the most impressive element with this film is the length at which Jackie will go to try to please his audience; indeed, it’s something Jackie tries to do in every movie. However, this movie’s climax ends with Jackie injuring himself grieviously by jumping into a pit of hot coals. While this may seem like a spoiler to hear, the enormity of this spectacle can not be lessened by mentioning it beforehand. It is simply astounding. And if that isn’t enough, as the credits roll Jackie himself sings the theme song.
The amazingness of this movie can not be understated. While there are many wire tricks used in this film, “Drunken Master 2” remains an irrefutable mastepiece that must be seen by everyone.