Classic Jackie Chan gets an upgrade in “Drunken Master II” – Warner Archive Collection
Updated: Jun 24, 2022
BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
Jackie Chan as Wong Fei-hung, trained in the martial art of “drunken boxing.”
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“DRUNKEN MASTER II” – WARNER ARCHIVE COLLECTION
Blu-ray; 1994; R for violent content
Best extra: None
CELEBRATED AS one of Time Magazine's 100 Best Films of all time, and one of the British Film Institute's 10 Best Action Movies of All Time, Jackie Chan’s “Drunken Master II” is now available in all its crazily choreographed and hilarious glory on Blu-ray via 4K remaster from The Warner Archive Collection
Jackie Chan is the charismatic man we know from American films like “Shanghai Noon,” with Owen Wilson (2000), and “Rush Hour,” with Chris Tucker (1998). He’s the voice of Turtle in the animated “Kung Fu Panda” movies, and Master Wu in “The Lego Ninjago Movie” (2017). But “Drunken Master II” is the film that shot Jackie to worldwide fame in a career that began in 1962 and continues today after dozens of international films. Jackie’s worn every hat possible behind and in front of the camera. He’s his own stuntman/choreographer, producer, writer, director, cinematographer, composer and more. If you don’t know this Honorary Oscar winner there’s no better place to start than “Drunken Master II.”
The story begins in the early part of the 20th century. Wong Fei-hung (Jackie Chan), his father Wong Kei-ying (Lung Ti), and their servant Tso (Ram Chiang), are returning by train to their village with boxes and crates of herbs and medicines for the father's apothecary. Wong Kei-ying is a pacifist, a man of honor and holds a place of authority in his little community. Keeping his rambunctious son in line is also a full-time job.
(1) The friendly and cheerful troops of the Chinese Army prepare to help train passengers with their tickets and customs taxes. (2) Wong Fei, the family's servant, Tso, (Ram Chiang), and Wong's father, Wong Kei-ying, (Lung Ti), pass the time on their train journey. (3) “Drunken Master II” was not released in the U.S. until 2000 under the title “The Legend of Drunken Master.” (4&5) Wong Fei and Tso await the introduction of The MacGuffin, (a switched box of smuggled antiquities.)
Hoping to dodge customs duty on a large ginseng root, the son, unbeknownst to his father, hides the root in another piece of luggage and replaces it with a "funny looking rock." Of course, the "rock" is a jade seal from the Ming Dynasty, to be secreted out of China by the crooked British Consul – part of a much broader antiques and artifact smuggling operation fronted by a steel mill operated by the evil Brit.
"Drunken Master II" derives its title from the "drunken fighting" style the son favors – a way of moving unpredictably with explosive bursts of action. "Drunken fighting" uses alcohol to bestow certain powers to its practitioners – sort of like Popeye uses spinach. The fight scenes are hilarious. Imagine Gene Kelly, The Three Stooges and Bugs Bunny dropped in a blender. The results would be Jackie’s Wong Fei-hung.
Of course, Fe-hung's antics drive his stern father's blood pressure up to dangerous levels, but his stepmother Ling (Anita Mui) always – well, almost always – has a devious plan to get him out of hot water. She was my favorite character, a real operator and drama queen when it was required to get her way!
Anita Mui was a wildly popular actress and singer, who passed away from cervical cancer in the early 90’s at age forty. I have only seen her in this one outing, but I well understand the national heartbreak at her death. She was definitely something special.
The film winds up with a signature bit that can be found in most of Jackie Chan's films, out-takes of all the stunts that went haywire as the credits roll.
(1-4) Wong Fei's package is stolen by Master Fu Wen-chi, (Chia Liang Liu), and the first fight scene breaks out as the train makes a stop.
Warner Archive advertised “Master II” was sourced from a 4K scan of the original camera negative (2.40:1 aspect ratio), and some scenes give you that impression, while others are plagued with digital noise reduction. The natural film grain goes up and down and waxy faces appear at times. Still, it’s an obvious improvement of the 40-year old English language Golden Harvest theatrical trailer included on the disc.
Color and picture quality is bright, clear and complexions are natural, except when Jackie displays a deliberate red face during his drunken fights. The imagery is still crisp and showcases a good amount of detail within the costumes, figures, elaborate props, and interior and exterior shots. Blacks are solid, with good contrast throughout.
Sound is much improved. The talents of the Foley artist are on full display with every whoosh, whiff, pow, smack, grunt, and crunch synced to the action. Dialogue, effects and score are well balanced.
Warner Archive provides the option to hear DM2 in Mandarin or the original Cantonese, with English subtitles or dubbed in English. I wouldn't want to tell anyone what to do – you might be constitutionally opposed to subtitles, but the dubbing, like nearly all dubbing of that vintage, sounds a little less than convincing. Also, the original Cantonese version contains material cut from the English dubbed version. Throughout the years, the film has endured plenty of edits and cuts. Warner Archive gives us the entire original – all 102 minutes.
IMBd reports “Drunken Master II,” also called “The Legend of Drunken Master,” was released 16 years after “Drunken Master” (1978). Jackie clashed with director Chia-Liang Liu overshooting styles. Jackie felt fans wanted more of the comic drunken style in fight scenes, while Liu wanted to use wires for a more realistic look. Eventually, Liu left and Jackie took over. The seven-minute fight at the end took almost four months to shoot, with only three seconds of usable film shot each day. He also crawled over burning hot coals twice because he felt the first time “didn’t have the right rhythm.”
SOMEBODY is Jackie Chan's insurance carrier. I don't know who, but he probably drinks too.
— Mike Reynolds
(1) The evil British Consul sends his thugs to deal with labor issues at the local steel mill. (2) Wong Fei's stepmother, (Anita Mui), is interrupted mid-scam by the arrival of her husband and stepson. (3&4) Wong Fei and Fishmonger Tsang, (Felix Wong) express a difference of opinion on chosen fighting styles. (5&6) Appropriately named "Hatchet Men" prepare to do their Boss' bidding as Wong Fei takes issue.
(1) Master Fu Wen-chi, fatally wounded by The Consul's thugs describes the antiquities smuggling operation. (2) Wong Fei and Fishmonger Tsang attempt a break-in at The Consul's palatial quarters. (3) The Consul and his henchmen. (4) Wong Fei's mission goes slightly awry. (5) The climactic duel between The Consul's dapper chief henchman and Wong Fei.