“The Legend of Drunken Master” is not one of the Hollywood Jackie Chan movies, where Chan is teamed up with a zany sidekick. It’s a mid-’90s Chinese film dubbed into English where Chan is teamed up with a bunch of guys whose butts need kickin’.
And kick them he does. Despite a convoluted plot and some broad, farcical comedy, the film eventually delivers on what Jackie Chan fans want: martial-arts fighting, and lots of it.
Chan plays Wong Fei Hung, the son of a prosperous doctor (Ti Lung). While traveling, the ginseng they’re bring home accidentally gets switched with a jade stone of some cultural significance to the Chinese people. When British embassy officials — aided by unpatriotic Chinese — discover Wong Fei Hung has the stone, they figure the best way to get it back is to engage in a lot of hand-to-hand fighting. (The film is well more than half-over before anyone ever produces a gun.)
Aiding Wong Fei Hung is his stepmother (Anita Mui), a smart, strong woman who submits to the extremely patriarchal way of doing things while secretly outsmarting her husband every chance she gets.
The comedy that pervades the film is goofy and pleasant, if not terribly clever. The stepmother is actually very funny, and of course the fighting always has its amusing moments.
Ah, yes, the fighting. There should be more of it in the film — really, who cares about the plot? — but what there is, is incredible. It helps to know that Chan does all his own stunts, and that no camera trickery is involved. The man and his co-stars often seem to defy gravity and every other law of physics with their fast-paced battles. It truly is amazing to watch.
The title refers to an actual form of kung fu called “drunken boxing.” Chan’s character uses it, and it’s where the fighter acts like a drunk man, bobbing and weaving around as if disoriented, when in reality the effect is to confuse his opponent. In this guy’s case, he fights better when he actually IS drunk, but who doesn’t, you know?
The drunken fighting — both faked and actually inebriated — is often comical to watch, not to mention amazing. Someone may seem to stand at impossible angles, taking stances that would make any normal person fall over, yet remaining upright and beating the crap out of someone, too.
The film is not high art by any means, though it could be argued that the fight sequences are as magnificently choreographed as any MGM musical dance number or Hitchcock’s shower scene in “Psycho.” And while the plot does get in the way of what viewers are really after, there’s enough of the fun stuff to keep them interested.
B- (; )