We now enter the second week of 36 STYLES SEASON and this time we're going to be taking a look at a film that's often overlooked but does seem to be highly regarded among a few Kung Fu film fans. In 1978 Seasonal films released Drunken Master. Starring Jackie Chan and directed and choreographed by Yuen Woo-Ping it's mixture of broad comedy and intricate Kung Fu action was a massive hit with local audiences in Hong Kong and cemented Jackie's popularity as the number one action star. Shortly thereafter producer Ng See-Yuen wished to make a sequel in hopes of being able to capitalize on the film's success. However Jackie had gone on to sign a contract with Golden Harvest to begin what would be a monumentally successful career with the studio so Ng was forced to find a replacement.
Ng chose Sunny Yuen Shun-Yee, brother of Yuen Woo-Ping who returned as the director. Also cast members such as Woo-Ping and Shun-Yee's father Yuen Siu-Tien, Hwang Jang Lee and Linda Lin Jing returned with Siu-Tien being the only one playing the same character he had played in the first movie, the classic character of Beggar Su. The results are mixed to say the least but what we're left with is worth seeing for sure.
Foggy (Shun-Yee) is a waiter who finds himself getting into trouble with Beggar Su (Siu-Tien) who soon finds out Foggy is in fact his adopted son thanks to his mother (Lin Jing). Foggy tries to get Su to teach him Drunken Fist style Kung Fu but does nothing except ridicule and abuse him. Meanwhile a deadly Drunken Fist expert called Rubber Legs (Hwang Jang Lee) is on the hunt for Su so he can prove once and for all who the King of Drunken Fist truly is.
Now given what had come before, Drunk Mantis had a lot riding on it in order for it to become a hit. It wasn't of course but like all these movies they've now gained a following through various fan circles. I for one didn't really dig it as much as Drunken Master. There's a lot to like here but it just seemed it was lacking in a few things that for me made it's predecessor such a great movie. First of all the film doesn't have a strong as a lead. Jackie Chan effortlessly crafted a performance that combined drama, comedic timing and high physicality and pretty much exuded charisma through out the film. While I respect Yuen Shun-Yee as a performer and for his many contributions to Hong Kong Cinema to me he isn't as strong a lead as Jackie. He can match him move for move but his knack for comedy is limited to pulling silly faces and yelling a lot.
Fortunately he is backed by a pretty solid cast of recognizable faces. As mentioned a few cast members from the previous film return. This time they are joined by Corey Yuen Kwai playing the student of Hwang Jang Lee's character Rubber Legs and Yen Shi-Kwan who plays a sickly looking medicine man who teaches Foggy how to fight. All of them fulfill their roles very well and help elevate what is a pretty average movie.
One thing that really annoyed me and no matter how hard I tried I just couldn't ignore it. The comedy. Kung Fu Comedies were common place around this time. While the mixture of the two genres had been started at Shaw Brothers with the likes of Lau Kar-Leung's Spiritual Boxer. It wasn't until Jackie starred in Snake in the Eagle's Shadow that the formula for such a film would prove massively successful. Literally dozens upon dozens of films with elements lifted directly from it were made in hopes of making money. This meant shoe-horning in as many cheap laughs as they could among all the martial arts action. I honestly did not like what as going on here. all of it just seemed incredibly forced. Such as a scene in which Beggar Su and Foggy visit a local bank and get into a little scuffle with the manager played by Dean Shek. Dean Shek does...well, what Dean Shek always does but it could have been a lot shorter then what was left in there.
A few people do find that sort of thing entertaining and I can respect that but I personally find it very grating and just kills the film dead in terms of it's pacing. A good chnk of stuff could have been cut from this but then we would have been left with half a film. Still for all it's faults we are given a generous amount of Kung Fu action to help soften the blow of the many and I mean many "comedic" antics of Sonny Yuen.
Yuen Woo-Ping worked along side Shun-Yee and another of his brothers Yuen Jang-Yeung as well was Yuen Kwai. They throw in some nice ideas throughout. The first fight featuring Sunny sees him go against two fighters using the bizarre styles of Chicken and Duck Styles, respectively. I thought this may have been a sly nod to Snake in the Eagle's Shadow but it's a short yet wonderfully creative action scene. Hwang Jang Lee doesn't do much kicking instead using a style combining the Drunk Fist and Mantis Fist styles. It was interesting to see him use a form which focused more on fist combinations since Hwang is known for his blistering kicking style. He does very well as used expect but I would have liked to have seen him use his legs more considering his character name is Rubber Legs.
There's a fight between him and Siu-Tien midway through the film which sees the two of them exchange drinks and few subtle hand lock techniques which escalates into a full-on brawl. There's a lot of acrobatic tumbling and tables being smashed but really? I thought it was too long. I'm all for complicated looking and lengthy fighting scenes but when it started hitting the 15 minute mark I thought it was a bit much. That sort of thing should be saved for the finale not the fight which signifies the end of the second act. Yuen kwai also has a rather nicely done fight with Linda Lin. Linda shows her incredible flexibility while evading Yuen Kwai's silver spear which then see's her defend herself with a sword. I enjoyed this fight in particular because the choreography was so good, especially Linda who shows off a lot of really good moves.
Yen Shi-Kwan also gets a couple fights in but they're mostly played for laughs as he knocks Sonny around a bit and then agrees to teach him his unique style of Kung Fu. I couldn't quite identify what stlye it was exactly but it seems there were a few techniques derived from classical Wing Chun as it focused mostly on hand to hand techniques with very little leg work. This was a smart idea as it contrasts very well with Hwang's Drunk Mantis Fist style and allows both actor's to do some very nicely done exchanges. That of course leads us to the finale.
It was worth putting up with the rest of the film just to get to this part. We have a straight up classic Kung Fu fight which sees Sunny and Hwang duke it out. I loved how the fight kept going back and forth with each fighter gaining and losing momentum and then forcing themselves to change tactics in order to try and land their punches. Sunny gets to do a few stunt falls but they never really looked as painful as the one's Jackie took. Also he doesn't seem to let himself get knocked around like Jackie did either. I'm not saying Sunny couldn't handle it but I expected the crashes to a have a little bit more impact to them. What we have here though is a damn good brawl that is a worthy follow up to what has come before.
Dance of the Drunk Mantis is not as good a film as the one which came before it but we do end up with some very creative action scenes and a wonderful end fight that is worth checking out. The DVD is easily available and you should do yourself a favor and go buy it as it's one which does deserve the shelf space.
Now then, the moment you've all been waiting for. Time to announce the winner of last week's giveaway. The lucky winner ho is now the proud owner of a Master of the Flying Guillotine shirt is......
Congratulations Richard! I will forward your information to Raymond of 36 STYLES who will send you your prize in the mail!
For those who lost out don't worry because I will be announcing the details of another contest in which another shirt will be up for grabs.
So that's it for this week, if you would like the purchase the Dance of the Drunk Mantis 36 Styles shirt click HERE!
That's all for now. Be here next week when I will be posting a review for Shaolin Vs Lama!