Jui Kuen II

Disney / Buena Vista | 1994 | 102 mins. | Rated R

The Legend of the Drunken Master is Chan’s 1994 follow up to the film that made him a star, 1979’s Drunken Master. Again playing a character from Chinese legend named Wong Fei-Hong, a quiet, unassuming student of Zui Quan (the style of the Drunken Fist) who has to choose between honoring his father (Ti Lung) — a stern yet immensely sympathetic master who subsequently forbids him from fighting — and protecting his country’s most priceless treasures; a profiteering British ambassador who is plundering China’s historic art treasures and selling them on the international market.

Jackie’s Chan commitment to the fight scenes in this film is nothing short of revelatory (and much of it done without special effects as outtakes shown over the closing credits demonstrate). The numerous fights are choreographed brilliantly and executed with flair by a talented, athletic company, none more so than the rousing, technically complicated climactic face-off in a steel mill between Chan and a half dozen goons out to destroy him. These scenes are so spectacular, in fact, that the remainder of the movie seems rather pale in comparison. The slapstick antics of Fei-hong’s stepmother Madame Wong (Anita Mui) lose their snap early on, and Chan’s own inebriated maneuvers away from the fighting don’t always flow well with the story. Surprisingly, the film’s than 58-year-old director Lau Kar-leung plays martial artist Master Fu Min-chi in two rousing fights, the first against Chan under and around some railway cars and later on as his ally against a horde of bad guys. There’s little doubt that The Legend of the Drunken Master contains some of the best fight sequences ever filmed.

The Legend of the Drunken Master

Thankfully, Miramax has decided not to Americanize the film too much and leave it largely as it was filmed. Miramax has added music that sounds like it belongs in the film, rather than adding some cheesy American pop music, as some other film companies have inexplicably done. The film also appears to have not been edited too badly, even to the point of leaving in a lot of subplot that paints the British as villains in the plundering of China.

As a Chan classic, the film succeeds on almost every level. As a furious display of intense martial arts, it’s sure to please the most hardened fan. As a comedy, it offers plenty of laughs. If you’re looking for a martial arts flick with a solid and serious plot, look elsewhere, If you want to see Jackie Chan show of the skills that made him a superstar, The Legend of the Drunken Master is a must-see.

The Legend of the Drunken Master comes to Blu-ray with a somewhat disappointing 1080p/VC-1 transfer. Skintones are either lifeless or flushed, its palette is muddy and monochromatic (with only a few splashes of still-dull color, courtesy of Anita Mui’s wardrobe), and contrast, while artificially boosted is somewhat underwhelming and indistinct. Detail is at the mercy of the film’s original print, fifteen years of dust and grime haven’t left it in the best of shape, countless flecks and scratches appear, and an inconsistent grain field plagues the entire production. Edges border on spongy, image clarity is all over the place, and noise reduction undermines what few fine textures manage to appear on screen. Sharpness and high definition sparkle occasionally during daytime scenes, but falter anytime the lights go out. Moreover, while artifacting, aliasing, and edge enhancement are thankfully nowhere to be found, the rest of the transfers issues make this one hard to recommend.

The Legend of the Drunken Master includes an English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track but doesn’t offer any Cantonese language track, lossy or otherwise. Oddly enough, the only place you can hear Jackie Chan deliver his own performance is and has always been via the film’s English dub.

The TrueHD track delivers in part, but ultimately fails to rejuvenate its ailing source. It’s loud, sure, but it lacks subtlety and prowess. While dialogue is certainly clear and prioritized, it ranges from overblown to overbearing, leaving some lines to flounder amidst the bass-heavy action and others sounding hollow, unnatural, or both. LFE output is brisk and bold, but a bit one-note, fusing every punch, kick, and shattering table with the same sounds. Directionality is problematic and contrived, rear speaker activity is sparse and obvious, and pans are none too subtle. Despite all of its issues, the Blu-ray edition’s lossless track is technically sound and doesn’t suffer from any debilitating mishaps that I’d attribute directly to Miramax or Disney’s treatment of the film.

The Blu-ray edition of Drunken Master doesn’t include any significant special features other than a dated promotional interview with Jackie Chan (SD, 7 minutes).

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