Widely considered Jackie Chan's best movie, "The Legend of Drunken Master" (released to the rest of the world in 1994 as "Drunken Master II") features what are arguably the fastest, most furious and elaborate -- and the most entertaining -- fight sequences ever filmed.
Chan plays a fictionalized version of Wong Fei-Hung, a real martial arts master and philosophical altruist in the early 1900s who, legend has it, once defeated a gang of 30 men single-handedly, armed only with a bamboo staff.
That skirmish is, of course, recreated in "Drunken Master" as a kinetic, highly concentrated blur of acrobatics and lightning-fast limbs as two dozen toughs invade a quiet restaurant, forcing Jackie to whip them all silly with flying fists and feet, upside-down wooden tables and cheer-rousing picnic bench-fu.
With half a dozen scenes of this nature -- each one better than the last -- the movie just never slows down. Yet "Drunken Master" also has the most meaningful plot of any Jackie Chan picture to date. It's about the Chinese trying to prevent colonial European smugglers from exporting en masse their nation's archeological treasures.In the picture, Chan's Fei-Hung is the mischievous son of a renowned doctor and martial arts instructor. Much of the movie's obligatory highjinks involve deceiving the old man to cover up the fact that Fei-Hung has inadvertently provoked the wrath of the villain, an embassy henchman played by Ken Lo, a champion kick-boxer.
The jaw-dropping climactic steel-factory showdown between these two puts the effects-heavy bouts in "The Matrix" to shame. With a connect rate of about 50 landed punches per minute, it took four months to shoot and features everything from kicks so fast the camera can't see them clearly to Jackie Chan being knocked onto a bed of burning coals -- and you know he doesn't fake that stuff!
The film gets its name from an informal fighting style that emulates (and is sometimes enhanced by) inebriation. Sloshing and stumbling about to confuse his opponents and striking from surprising positions, Chan plays this peculiar kung-fu for both action and laughs (booze is to Fei-Hung what spinach is to Popeye).
"The Legend of Drunken Master" is burdened somewhat by the routine weaknesses of most Jackie Chan movies: bad dubbing of dumb dialogue, subservient and stereotypically fussy female leads, etc. But forgiving all that, as any true Jackie Chan fan does, you simply cannot find a more exhilarating, eye-popping martial arts flick.
The opening credits say it all: "A Hong Kong Stuntman Association Ltd. Production." The stunt men produced the movie!
A note to ratings-watchers: "Drunken Master" got slapped with an unjustified "R" for its moderate violence. If your kids are Jackie Chan fans, there's no reason to keep them away from this one.