Friday, January 29, 2010

“Drinking gives Herculean strength!”

Booze and fighting go together like…well, booze and fighting. Comedy gold for some, recipe for tragedy for others, we here at Castle RMWC are not here to waggle fingers at the moral ramifications of alcohol abuse. Especially not when Jackie Chan’s involved, because if 1994’s Jui kuen II (Drunken Master II or The Legend of Drunken Master in English) has taught me anything, its that you don’t want to get between a Chinese folk hero and his alcohol.

In 19th Century China, our hero returns with his father from a shopping trip, but during a stop on the train, he gets mixed up in an accidental item switch as a box of ginseng that he was supposed to protect gets swapped with a box containing a priceless artifact. A series of misadventures leads to him getting mixed up with crooked British ambassadors and Chinese businessmen who are selling off Chinese artifacts for a quick buck to foreigners. Combat hilarity ensues.

Wong Fei-hung: Jackie Chan returns to a role that he played in 1978 for Drunken Master I. Wong is the enthusiastic but not exactly forward-thinking son of a doctor. He wants to help people out, and does so eventually, but he ends up causing himself a load of troubles along the way. That’s okay, because he’s a solid martial arts master (well, you’d expect that from Jackie Chan) that can hold his own in a fight. This is all well and good, but when the movie’s called drunken master, you expect some masterful drunken boxing, and when he finally hits the bottle, its like Popeye downing his spinach, and Fei-hung pulls off some visually incredible and over the top feats. Naturally he’s our funny and deadly badass.

Wong Kei-ying: Lung Ti is Fei-hung’s stoic and rather stern physician father. He also runs a martial arts school. He is very disapproving of his son drinking to increase his combat skills, considering it shameful and much too easy to go overboard into straight up sloppy drunk.

Mrs. Wong: Anita Mui is Kei-ying’s wife. Obviously a second one since she’s not Fei-hung’s mother. She’s more of a comic relief character, gambling with her lady friends when her husband’s away and generally encouraging Fei-hung to drink when he gets into fights. For a step-mother, she and Fei-hung get along great.

Tsang the Fishmonger: Felix Wong plays, well, a guy who sells fish. However, he’s also something of a friendly rival with Fei-hung in terms of martial arts.

John: Ken Lo is the final boss bad guy who fights Fei-hung in the huge set-piece finale. A gangster who’s been selling off priceless Chinese artifacts to the British ambassador, he’s got no regard for his nation’s history, doesn’t fight fair and has a lieutenant named Henry (Ho-Sung Pak) who is also a martial arts guy.

Chian-Liang Liu (and Jackie Chan for the climactic fight scene) directed this, and while a lot of the regular scenes are perfectly fine, we’re all here because of the fight scenes, and they are solid. Each is a fantastic set piece that uses as much of the environment as possible in that signature Jackie Chan style. Of particular note are the street fight where Fei-hung first gets liquored up and whups gangster ass but good, the fighting retreat against a horde of Axe Gang members who storm a restaurant Fei-hung and a policeman are talking in, and then obviously the final battle. You can’t go wrong for fight scenes in this movie. It’s impossible. The best part is that the fights are not claustrophobically edited so that you get only close ups of faces and people’s fists. I generally prefer being able to follow what’s going on in a fight scene, and that too, is solid.

Edward Tang, Man-Ming Tong & Gai Chi Yuen wrote the screenplay, and generally get things done well. It is a martial arts movie first though, and the general plot is more of a vehicle to explain when Fei-hung is always getting into visually spectacular fights. There are a lot of jokes, and a lot work, some don’t, and some don’t cross the Pacific that well, I suppose. The real comedy is mostly visual, anyway. Then there are the occasional serious moments, which get rather grim, like when Kei-ying rages at his son for drinking after he promised not to.

Michael Wandmacher apparently did the score for the 2000 North American release (which, sadly, is the version I watched because a lot was cut out apparently) and Wai Lap Wu did the original score. The score is good and very conducive to ADVENTURE!

Now, the version that I saw was dubbed and had no option for Cantonese audio with English subtitles. Unfortunate, yes, but since this is a lighter movie than say, Hero, its not a deal breaker. Still, if you can get the original Chinese audio, that would be preferable.

Jui kuen II is not exactly what you’d call Oscar material. However, it is a prime example of not only Hong Kong action cinema but also of Jackie Chan’s signature action/comedy style in full effect. It is a Jackie Chan movie about Drunken Fist Boxing and delivers exactly what it promises it will. Wholeheartedly recommended, but from the sentence above, you should know if this is for you or not.

No comments: