Legend Of Drunken Master
When I was a much younger man in used to take the subway into Manhattan to take in a movie or two. Back then one of the places to see a flick on a teenager’s budget was the old Time Square grind houses. I don’t mean the theaters that exclusively displayed very poorly made porn but the theaters that ere grand movie houses in their time now eking out a meager business showing cheaply made martial arts flick, bad Sci-Fi and exploitation flicks of various other genres. We went to places like this for one reason; they were fun. None of the flicks were mainstream movies and very few were particularly any good but the only cost a buck or two and there was usually a ton of action. Mow that I have entered man’ estate and my expectations have refined I still miss those carefree afternoons of just kicking back to enjoy a chop Saki style movie. This feeling came rushing back the first time I got to watch ‘The Legend of the Drunken Monkey.’ The actual similarities between this movie and the ones I watched long ago are somewhat flimsy if you consider the technical aspects such as acting, stunt work or general production values. What is the sane is that sense of sheer, unreserved entertainment that those schlocky, old flicks. Much of this is the result of the cast and crew diligently crafting this movie so that it hits every requirement of an action oriented martial arts but presented with production values that are exemplary, you might still have that grind house enjoyment but now with the quality demanded by more mature tastes. Now a touch of irony is stirred into the mix with the latest home theater release of this movie. after watching action flicks from worn out film projected on stained, ripped screens you know have a chance to view this movie in the best possible way; Blu-ray high definition. Fans of this often misunderstood and underestimated genre can now catch the best Asian action in stunning high definition and ‘Drunken Monkey’ has been included in the vanguard of this high def action charge into your living room.
Directing this film was Chia-Liang Liu. Unless you are an aficionado of the genre you may not recognize the name but in his home country and with the legions of fans of Asian action movies he is legendary. For a film such as this he has the absolutely perfect resume. His background not only includes rather extensive work in direction but he has a sizable list of credits working in the capacity of actor and, perhaps, most importantly, as a stunt man. It is one thing to sit in that all important chair directing intricate stunt performances but there is nothing quite like having a man in charge his years of firsthand experience calling the shots behind the camera. It is more than just an understanding of what the stunt men has to go through; he knows exactly the precise angle, lighting and camera setup to extract the ultimate impact from a stunt. This is a huge part of why this movie remains one of the best the genre has ever produced.
Of course a great film requires more than just talent behind the camera; much of the potential depends on the star that must carry the production and sell it to the audience. In this case the production is gifted with the most recognizable man in martial arts films; Jackie Chan. There are some who can come across as deadly, others that can appear inhumanly swift in their performances but no one can hold a candle to the sheer entertaining expression and style that Chan has developed over the decades has been plying his craft. There is something almost magical about watching one of his performances and I have to agree with the myriad of fans that hold up ‘Drunken Master’ as the pinnacle of his career. It is not as if he makes what he does seem easy although he accomplishes his moves with a grace that is close to being beyond belief. It is also the understanding that this artist relies on his own strength, agility and sense of comic timing. He has become famous for using ordinary items as props and weapons that will leave you with your jaw literally agape. This is actually part two of the ‘Drunken Master series but the ordinal number is often lost here in the States as this was the first to gain wide release here. This role is extremely suited to the unique style of Chan. He plays Wong Fei-hung, a man who is inadvertently drawn into an illegal smuggling ring with connections that go high into the British embassy. The one factor working on his side is his mastery of the martial arts technique called Zui Quan (Drunken Boxing); which makes him deadly and unpredictable.
I have seen this film several times before on cable and regular DVD but nothing before can prepare you for the experience provided by this high definition release. The colors are vivid with a palette that is reference quality. The contrast holds together even in the transition between light and dark and not a single hint of ant motion related artifacts. Likewise the audio presents a crisp, clear sound stage albeit with some preference to the center front. Overall this is film that transcends it genre to bring s piece of cinematic history.