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'Legend of the Drunken Master'

Fight club

Friday, October 20, 2000

By Ron Weiskind Post-Gazette Movie Editor

"Legend of the Drunken Master" is yet another "new" Jackie Chan movie already available on video. Made in 1994, it is only now being released theatrically in North America (it's dubbed into English, rather well for once). Chan played the same character, a real-life Chinese folk hero named Wong Fei Hung, in a 1979 film.

'The Legend Of Drunken Master'

Rating: R, for violent content.

Players: Jackie Chan, Anita Mui, Ti Lung, Ken Lo.

Director: Lau Ka Leung.

Web site: www.dimension

Critic's call: 2 1/2 stars.


Martial-arts fans justifiably laud "Legend of the Drunken Master" for its high-octane, intricately choreographed fight scenes. This is flashy, complicated stuff that is artful in its execution. Some of the effects foreshadow "The Matrix."

"Legend of the Drunken Master," which was directed by Lau Ka Leung, ends with a protracted fight scene in which Chan survives being slashed, burned, kicked, punched, thrown on a bed of hot coals and otherwise abused by a veritable horde of enemies (not for the first time in the film) -- and that's before he goes one-on-one with the nasty boy portrayed by Ken Lo (Chan's real-life bodyguard), who has the fastest, most flexible flying feet this side of an Olympic sprint.

Other parts of the film prove to be more problematic. While the plot hardly matters, three screenwriters (Edward Tang, Tong Man Ming and Yuen Chieh Chi) still should have been able to come up with something better than hissable British Embassy personnel stealing China's cultural treasures.

At first, Chan is wearing his trademark goofy smile and playing the screwup. He goes to great lengths to avoid paying a simple tax, and he cheats while playing a game with his father (Ti Lung). Soon, we learn he's a practitioner of drunken boxing, in which the fighter bobs and weaves as if smashed, keeping his opponent off-guard.

Later, while taking on a gang of goons, his feisty stepmother (Anita Mui) tosses him bottles of booze to guzzle down, apparently because it really does make him a better fighter. It also shames his father, who proceeds to beat him unmercifully.

These scenes made me squirm -- the martial-arts stuff is like ballet for these guys, but the beating is real violence. And Dudley Moore in "Arthur" was the last guy who got away with being a funny drunk.

Oh, and then there's the idea of Chan playing a character half his age. He makes up for it in the fight scenes. If they're all you care about, you won't be disappointed.

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