November 16, 2001 -- "The Legend of Drunken Master," is another of those films, like "Iron Monkey" that is being released in America years after its original release in Hong Kong. This shows us a younger Jackie Chan when his physical skills were closer to top form. It has some great fight scenes and some great stunts, but unfortunately, the film is crippled by terrible dubbing and a bad soundtrack. This is only for hard-core martial arts fans willing to overlook the film's many flaws.
The film was originally released in Hong Kong in 1994 under the title "Jui kuen II" (I think this means something like "Drunken Fist" in Cantonese). It is a sequel to a 1978 film called Zui quan, which also stars Jackie Chan. Following Jackie's success in such films as "Rush Hour" and "Shanghai Noon," Jui kuen II was released in the U.S. in 2000 to modest success. While "Iron Monkey" was released with English subtitles and a Cantonese soundtrack, "The Legend of Drunken Master" is dubbed in English. I've also read that the musical score was also changed for the American release.
Because of bad dubbing, the plot of the film is hard to follow and the humor is sucked out of most of the jokes. Nearly everything but the fight scenes and the stunts become a drag on the film. There are a few scenes where sight-gags and other physical humor works, but mostly the humor looks like a bad grade school skit. I missed the film when it came out in the theaters and I haven't seen the DVD. I saw it first on VHS tape. While some DVDs have only the English soundtrack, some being sold, by private individuals at least, have the original Cantonese soundtrack. I recommend getting the DVD with original Cantonese soundtrack and English subtitles if you possibly can (see links below).
As I said before, the fight scenes are top-notch. If Jackie wasn't in top form when he made this film, he must have been close to it. Time and again he demonstrates the incredible agility and acrobatic grace that have become his trademarks. His ability to simulate drunkenness during a fight has to be seen to be believed. His character in the film is supposed to be able to fight better drunk than sober. Jackie's comic ability is also on display, as long as it doesn't require dialogue. Even though Jackie apparently dubbed his own lines in English, it just doesn't work. Even the English-speaking characters are dubbed! The story has an odd combination of humor and seriousness that doesn't quite work. There are scenes of death, humiliation and severe punitive beatings, surrounded by very broad humor. It is a pretty jarring combination, at least to my Western sensibilities.
In short, this film suffers from some of worst problems of the martial arts genre, bad dubbing, bad soundtrack, chaotic plot, no character development. It also has some of the best things in martial arts films: great fight scenes and stunt work. One incredible scene has Jackie crab-walking through a fire pit. It is just one of many spectacular and dangerous-looking fire stunts in the film. There are some good fights between Jackie and Fu Wen-Chi. The character of Fu Wen-Chi is played by the director of the film, Chia-Liang Liu. Oh, the plot. It has something to do with Chinese artifacts being stolen. In martial arts films it is never about the plot. That's just an excuse to string together a bunch of fights. This film rates a C.
Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.