Saturday, July 16, 2011

“I have the sky as a roof and I sleep wherever I may.”

A year and some change ago I reviewed Legend of Drunken Master. Which, while an awesome movie in its own right, was also a sequel. Well, I finally saw the original film, Jui Kuen (aka Drunken Master in English), which, while still starring Jackie Chan, was made in 1978. So yeah, young Jackie Chan. So young he was credited as Jacky Chan.

Wong Fei-Hung (Jackie Chan) is an extremely talented but precocious youth who’s father wants to drill some sense into. Dad calls in a relative, the wandering drunk Su Hua Chi (Siu Tien/Simon Yuen) to pound some humility into Fei-Hung. Fei-Hung naturally resists, butting heads constantly with his teacher. Meanwhile, the assassin Thunderleg (Jang Lee Hwang) is hired to take a contract out on Fe-Hung’s father, and naturally its up to our hero to save his father from getting kicked into the grave, but only after a grueling training period where he learns the intricacies of drunken-style kung-fu. That’s pretty much the plot right there. Refreshingly simple.

Woo-ping Yuen (who’s kind of a big deal in the fight choreography world and the director of RMWC favorite Iron Monkey) directed this movie, and make no mistake, the entire movie revolves around martial arts (and fight scenes). It is important to note that it’s a fairly low-budget film, so many of the action sequences lack the flair of a lot of the sequel’s set-pieces. This movie gets by with the sheer athleticism of the cast, which is a different level of impressive. This was Jackie Chan’s breakout movie for a good reason, after all.

Written by Lung Hsiao, See-Yuen Ng, and Woo-ping Yuen, the story is quite straightforward in terms of plotting. It serves to follow Fei-Hung’s development from immature, selfish boy to more mature, less selfish young man. Simple, really. There’s also a fair amount of slapstick and most of the comedy is physical and broad.

Original music by Fu Liang Chou, which works great for the film. There’s also the issue of dubbing (which listening to the commentary enlightened me about). Apparently not all of the original Chinese audio track survives and so parts of the film use the English dub track, even when you go for the Chinese with English subtitles option on the DVD. Such is life.

Jui Kuen is a different experience than the more commonly seen sequel. This isn’t bad, just different. For instance, its much more self-contained, less concerned with geo-political situations and is much more…permissive of a hero who’s abilities are essentially “Popeye with booze instead of spinach.” It also has a smaller budget and lacks the polish of the sequel. However, both feature excellent martial arts and showcase Jackie Chan doing what he does best, and when you get right down to it, isn’t that what’s really important here?

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