A so-so dub does nothing to lessen this great piece of HK action cinema.
“Alright … time for drunken boxing.”
When I sat down to watch this for the review, I was convinced that I had already written about the iconic 1978 piece Drunken Master, but maybe I was thinking of Sammo Hung’s The Magnificent Butcher. Either way, it doesn’t matter as this 1994 sequel-by-name-only has little to do with the original film, much to its benefit.
This film is set in early 20th century China and stars Chan as Wong Fei-hung who, along with his father Doctor Wong (Ti Lung) and manservant Tso (Ram Cheung) are waiting to go through customs in Shanghai in order to bring some ginseng back to his father’s surgery. Believing that paying duty on the ginseng is a scam, Wong decides to hide the ginseng in the suitcase of a passing British consul, thinking to get it back on the train. However, things get complicated when Wong is assaulted on the train by a man looking to take this suitcase.
After a quick tussle, Wong walks away with the ginseng – or so he thinks. It turns out there was a switcheroo during the fight and Wong is now in the possession of a stolen jade seal. Wong learns that the jade seal was taken by the British in order to sell, which he naturally disapproves of. The man he fought against, he discovers, is a Manchurian officer trying to reclaim these artefacts. Naturally, Wong finds himself in a world of trouble he must fight his way out of, all the while trying not to disappoint his father too much (who hates Wong’s drunken fist-style).
Jackie Chan was forty when this movie came out, but he acts like he’s about 20. This isn’t a criticism, and in fact it didn’t even strike me as odd when I was watching it. Chan’s dumb-guy smile and general affable attitude on screen has always made him appear younger than he actually is. That he’s also constantly flailing around, kicking and punching with an seemingly infinite energy helps sell the illusion, as well. Here, Chan seems barely a day older than the character he played in the 1978 film, with the biggest difference being that in this one, he seems to have learnt a few more tricks.
As with a lot of Chan’s action comedies, Drunken Master II is all about the fights. Once again, they’re wonderfully choreographed and visually fresh. It’s pretty impressive how much creativity goes into these fights, and how little they feel rehashed. Here, we have some neat scenes on top of and beneath a train, a fantastic throwdown in a factory featuring some hot coals, and the most memorable fight with the Axe Gang. That fight is particularly fun to watch as the gang members aren’t waiting their turn to fight. It’s lots-against-one and really shows, giving Chan the chance to choreograph some cool moments where Wong has to take out half a dozen guys at once.
With the fighting as strong as it is, it’s not surprise Drunken Master II embraces the titular style of fighting, and you see a lot more of it than you did in the previous film. In this one, Wong is already adept in it, so we don’t need to see him practise. If anything, he’s too good at it, and this causes his father to banish him from the house, saying that the style is too dangerous to practise without the risk of harming yourself (which, considering a later scene when Wong drinks industrial rubbing alcohol to fight before turning blind temporarily, is probably justified).
Yeah, this film does drama quite well, too. Wong’s father is strict and no-nonsense and in a lesser film would be almost villainous. Here, he’s shown to be overly harsh, but for good reason. This gives Chan the opportunity to play a more vulnerable role from time to time, so he doesn’t have to always do the cheerful routine. It’s just a shame that there’s none of the original voice work here. The only salvageable copy of this film – and the only one released on DVD and VOD – has dubbed voice acting. Thankfully Chan does his own dubbing, which adds a bit more legitimacy (and the US version of the film is barely edited) but it would have been nice to have an original cut of the audio in there. Still, it doesn’t negatively affect the film in any meaningful way, and Drunken Master II remains a top-notch martial arts classic.
Verdict: Filled with great action and likeable characters, Drunken Master II is a fitting successor to the ’78 classic.
The Asian Cinema Critic’s Patented Ratings System
Overall entertainment: 8/10
Violence: 7/10, 10/10 for quality
Axe gang: Need to make more appearances in film
Cameos: Andy Lau briefly shows up. That’s cool.
British in a Jackie Chan film: Always stealin’ those treasures, aren’t they?
Drunken Master 2 (1994)
Also known as: Legend of the Drunken Master, 醉拳二 (Jui Kuen II)
Director: Lau Kar-leung
Writers: Edward Tang, Tong Man-ming, Yuen Chieh-chi
Jackie Chan – Wong Fei-hung
Anita Mui – Wong’s mother
Ti Lung – Doctor Wong Kei-ying
Felix Wong – Fishmonger Tsang
Lau Kar-leung – Master Fu Wen-chi
Ram Cheung – Tso
Ho Wing-fong – Fun
Ken Lo – John
Ho-Sung Pak – Henry
Louis Roth – British Consul
Chin Kar-lok – Fo-sang
Bill Tung – General rewarding Wong Kei-ying (cameo appearance)
Andy Lau – Cheung Hok-leung (cameo appearance)