The Legend Of Drunken Master

The Legend Of Drunken Master

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The Legend Of Drunken Master

After Jackie Chan finally broke through in America with 1996's Rumble In The Bronx, longtime fans waited (and waited) for his most awe-inspiring kung-fu vehicle, 1994's Drunken Master II, to graduate from the obscurity of cult circles and bootleg cassettes. But Miramax, the distributor that bought the rights, treated it much the same way they treated other great films such as Abbas Kiarostami's Through The Olive Trees and Takeshi Kitano's Sonatine, shelving it for years before granting a pathetically half-hearted theatrical run. With a new score, atrocious dubbing, and an inexplicable R-rating added, and the original title and ending scrapped—not a terrible hack job as Chan releases go—The Legend Of Drunken Master may be battered and demoralized, but it still blows away any action film this year. Crossing the period flavor of Hong Kong epics like Once Upon A Time In China with the deft slapstick and spectacular balletics of Chan's best work, it eschews both the chop-socky conventions of the 1979 original and the strained silliness of his later efforts. Operating at peak form, Chan makes a strong case as the world's finest action hero and a closed case as its most insanely devoted, literally crawling through a bed of hot coals for a few precious seconds of entertainment. A mix-up on a train puts Chan and his family in the middle of unexpected mayhem when the ginseng they imported for his father's pharmacy is accidentally switched with the emperor's coveted jade seal. When the nefarious British ambassador and his legion of cronies try to steal it back from them, Chan uses his patented "drunken boxing" style to keep the villains at bay. The ability to fight better while inebriated is the sort of barroom mythos that wouldn't fly in a Walter Hill movie, but with a star of Chan's unique abilities, the acrobatic swigging and bumbling leads to inspired silliness. Ironically, the most memorable setpieces are generally sober affairs, including a climactic showdown at a fiery steel mill and a restaurant scene in which he and an older man (director Liu Chia-Liang) take on 100 axe-wielding assassins. Now that his physical abilities are diminishing and his talent has been somewhat reigned in by Hollywood, The Legend Of Drunken Master may be your last chance to see a singular kung-fu legend at the top of his game.

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