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(2000) (Jackie Chan, Anita Mui) (R)

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Action/Adventure: Discovering that foreign gangsters are smuggling Chinese artifacts from his native country, a man uses his various martial arts techniques, including that of drunken fighting, to stop them.
Wong Fei-Hung (JACKIE CHAN) is a young martial arts master who's proficient in the style of drunken fighting where one confuses their opponent by appearing to be drunk, thus luring them into a false sense of security. His father, Wong Kei-Ying (TI LUNG), a respected and dignified herbalist, however, thinks the form disgraces the family - especially when Fei-Hung actually become drunk to increase his skills -- and forbids him from using it.

His stepmother (ANITA MUI), a playfully conniving woman and mahjong addict, however, encourages Fei-Hung to be himself and use that fighting style when necessary. While on an herbal shopping trip with his father, he gets that chance when he runs into Fu Min-Chi (LAU KA LEUNG), an older man who's taken a small package that's identical to the one containing ginseng that Fei-Hung stashed among an ambassador's belongings to avoid paying taxes on it.

It turns out that Fu Min-Chi was hoping to retrieve a stolen Chinese artifact, the Jade Seal of the Emperor that the ambassador and his associates were planning on smuggling out of China with many other similar artifacts. With Fei-Hung unknowingly possessing that artifact, he draws the hostile attention of many of the gangsters (including KEN LO), who are also tightening the reins on a local steel mill.

As Fei-Hung eventually learns of his possession and sets out to assist Fu Min-Chi, he has various violent encounters with the many gangsters, and uses his drunken fighting style against them, despite knowing that his father won't approve.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Unlike many Eastern societies where the elderly are revered and respected for the wisdom, knowledge and experience they've attained in their lives, senior citizens in other parts of the world are often unceremoniously put out to pasture, so to speak, in a "the less they're seen, the better off everyone is" mentality.

It isn't much different in the world of movies where youth, vigor, sex appeal and the lack of gray hairs or wrinkles means you still have a shot at stardom. Of course, that isn't to say that some older performers aren't still active, but, for the most part, roles for such aged actors and actresses are usually rather few and far in between.

That's particularly true when it comes to performers who made their living embodying action characters. Since audiences have a hard time believing that those in their seventies, eighties and beyond could catch, let alone defeat international terrorists or space aliens, we don't often see such portrayals.

At 46, Martial arts superstar Jackie Chan ("Shanghai Noon," "Rush Hour") still has a ways to go and years to work before he has to worry about being forced into retirement. Yet, there's no denying that he isn't getting any younger or that the years of abusing and breaking his various body parts have taken their toll on his abilities. As such, it's unlikely that he'll ever match the physical prowess, flexibility and agility he once possessed.

Thus, if you're Chan or the studio(s) representing him, the question is how to deal with this dilemma. Well, if you made a bunch of films in your prime that few have seen outside your native country, you simply repackage them as new releases and hope that viewers don't question why you keep looking younger with each release.

Such is the case with "The Legend of Drunken Master," originally released in 1994 as "Jui kuen II" (a marginally connected sequel to the original "Drunken Master" film, 1979's "Zui quan," where Chan played the same character). Renowned for its legendary fight sequences, the film offers Chan's new fans the chance to see the martial arts star strut his stuff, but little else.

Those looking for the polished veneer and Hollywood-esque humor found in "Rush Hour" and especially "Shanghai Noon" might be a bit disappointed by what's offered here. Poorly dubbed, sporting an uneven and somewhat incoherent/poorly explained plot and featuring some bad acting, stilted dialogue and lame humor, the film exudes that cheap, "chop suey" look and feel that many Western viewers stereotypically associate with martial arts films.

Of course, no one expects (or in this case, expected) such films to be taken seriously (as far as anything beyond the fighting), let alone be in the running for any critical awards. Instead, most viewers of this sort of picture are looking for Chan's wildly imaginative and physically impressive stunts and fight sequences, and this film certainly delivers plenty of that.

Reinforcing Chan's legend as something of a cross between Bruce Lee, Buster Keaton and Gene Kelly, the various fight sequences are often amazing to behold due to both their elaborate choreography and the sheer physical prowess of Chan and his costars. While there's a tremendous amount of hand to hand (and foot to foot, etc.) combat, what's missing, however, at least to some degree, are the fun and hilarious stunts and ingenious uses of non-standard items as offensive and defensive weapons. Although some of that is present, such scenes here aren't as clever, fun or crowd pleasing as in many of Chan's other films.

Instead, this film's gimmick, if you will, is the sight of him acting or being drunk while battling the various bad guys. Although some of it is physically impressive, it doesn't really add much to the proceedings and thankfully isn't used throughout the film.

Beyond all of the fighting and stunts, there isn't much else present to recommend the film. Chan's as charming and affable as always, and that's what makes his films so much more enjoyable and accessible for the casual moviegoer than the more hardened and serious martial arts flicks from the likes of Jet Li and others. His non-fighting performance, however, isn't particularly memorable or noteworthy here.

That also pretty much sums up the film's other performances from the likes of Anita Mui ("The Enforcer," "Rumble in the Bronx") as the playfully conniving stepmother and Ti Lung ("Kung Fu Master," "For a Better Tomorrow") as Fei-Hung's serious and dignified father.

Lau Ka Leung ("Brave Lad of Guangdong ," "Challenge of the Masters ") is notable not only for holding his own against Chan in various fight scenes despite being much older, but also for being the film's director. The various villains played by the likes of Ken Lo (Chan's real-life bodyguard who's appeared in his films such as "Rush Hour" and "Operation Condor") are all flat, uninteresting characters who are interchangeable and often barely distinguishable or, for that matter, identified.

In essence, they're all just fodder for Chan's blazing feet and hands, and for fans of just that, the film probably won't disappoint. On the other hand, if you're looking for something substantial between those scenes (which are rather spread out in the first half) - such as decent directing, writing or performances - it's unlikely you'll get as much of a kick out of what's offered here. Good for its fight sequences and stunts but otherwise as lame as one can imagine, "The Legend of Drunken Master" isn't likely to be as popular among viewers as Chan's more recent domestic hits. The movie rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed October 18, 2000 / Posted October 20, 2000

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