[Sidebar] The Worcester Phoenix
October 26 - Nov. 2, 2000

[Movie Reviews]

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Chris Fujiwara

This is the English-dubbed version of a superb 1994 Hong Kong film also known as Drunken Master 2. Jackie Chan plays a master of the disfavored Drunken Boxing school who tries to stop a British Embassy creep and his myrmidons from looting Chinese antiquities. The film starts as if in a hurry but soon acquires purpose, pace, and style. The fights get more and more inventive. The filmmakers -- Chan himself replaced credited director Lau Ka Leung -- know that to work as a comedy, a movie must be serious about some things. Thus the plot, though tossed off, is rich in thematic tensions: son/father, national pride/foreign greed, labor/management, booze/herbal medicine. Above all, The Legend of Drunken Master is a success of form. Characters pair off in combat as briskly, and with the same triumphant shift between levels of reality, as leads in a musical join in song. For the big numbers, choruses of fighters storm elaborate sets -- a collapsible two-story wooden pavilion; a steel mill that looks as if it had been designed by Hammer films for a zombie remake of Oliver! And the rubber face of Anita Mui's comic stepmother is as quick and funny as Chan's acrobat body.

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