44 Films: Film 7 of 44: "The Legend Of Drunken Master" (1994)
Film 7 of 44:
"The Legend Of Drunken Master" or "Drunken Master II" (1994)
Directed by Chia-Liang Lu and Jackie Chan
I am guilty of watching this film's penultimate fight scene on YouTube, on one of those run-of-the-mill Top Ten lists made for cheap hits. I didn't expect that said battle was just one of several in the film, all beautifully choreographed and delightfully entertaining. I didn't know that it was part of an uplifting story about cultural colonisation and familial love. Seeing this film was an unexpected joy and chastisement. We are easily entertained by Jackie Chan's dexterity in martial arts and stunt work, but we overlook his skill as an actor and consummate filmmaker.
Legend is incorrectly considered a sequel to 1978's Drunken Master, which also starred Mr. Chan. This is more of a reboot, the initiative of a visibly seasoned and grown Chan. He had almost full creative control in this instalment, making use of his renowned stunt team (who are also decent actors) and a painstakingly-earned film sensibility, the result of which is a charming and memorable classic.
Chan plays Wong Fei-hung, the fledgling practitioner of the novel art of drunken boxing in early 20th Century China. Fei-hung is crafty and charming (of course), and he endears himself to pretty much everyone, save for his father and sensei, who prefers parental authority over affection. What begins as a simple comedy about a family and village unravels when it's discovered that British colonials are robbing the village (and presumably most of China) of its ancient artefacts. The colonials, in true-to-life fashion, make use of wealthy and domineering locals to enforce their control. Fei-hung, with a little help from his step mum (played to comedic and athletic perfection by Anita Mui) and a bunch of friends, eventually faces off with these locals enforcers, using his novel martial art, and a little bit of drink, to bring the film to that climax that you're very likely familiar with.
Legend reminds us of the commitment to excellence that has formed much of Jackie Chan's work ethic. Its final battle, for instance, lasts a little over seven minutes, but was filmed over four months. Count them. Four. Months. Chan has often spoken of his frustration with the Hollywood work model, where film crews pretty much whizz through shoots, with their eyes on the clock and budget. Jackie Chan has his sights elsewhere. He believes in his vision enough to rally the time, money and personnel that results in work like this. It's an unheralded feat. One we don't appreciate enough.
See you tomorrow!