Sixteen years after the pic that trampolined him into the local big time, Hong Kong star Jackie Chan bounces back with a titular sequel that’s among the most confident in his oeuvre. Though “Drunken Master II” isn’t the unrestrained, daredevil actionfest of some of his ’80s movies, it’s a well-balanced slab of genre cinema in which Chan is more of an ensemble player than previously. Fans worldwide should respond warmly, and ancillary biz looks hot.
The movie pulled a handsome $ 22.5 million during first 24 days of release across East and Southeast Asia in February. H.K. B.O. alone touched $ 5.2 million, proving the 40-year-old star hasn’t lost his golden touch. Long-promised pic was actually made to benefit the Hong Kong Stuntmen’s Union, with which Chan isclosely involved.
In fact, the only connection with the 1978 “Drunken Master” (aka “Drunk Monkey in the Tiger’s Eyes”) is the name of Chan’s character, legendary Cantonese martial artist Wong Fei-hung, recently disinterred in a string of Jet Lee/Tsui Hark pix. Original, made by Ng See-yuen’s Seasonal Corp., was a low-tech comedy actioner with Chan playing pupil to a “drunken fist” master. Present item, partly shot in mainland China, is given the whole Golden Harvest production values, plus a bevy of stars led by songstress Anita Mui and veteran m.a. star Ti Lung.
Set in the early Republican era, movie starts in Changchun, northeast China, with Chan and his stern, righteous father (Ti Lung) taking the train back to Canton in the south. En route, their box containing a ginseng root gets swapped with one containing an imperial jade seal, stolen by some nasty Brits for export to the West.
Rest of the plot, back home in Canton, spins on a dime, with plenty of comic shtick involving the missing ginseng, and the Brits and their Chinese heavies targeting Chan & Co. for the missing jade. Terrific set-piece finale is set in an iron smeltery, where local labor is being exploited and the factory used as a cover for the smuggling op.
The star’s blend of boyish charm, comic timing and acrobatic skills are undiminished, and Chan is now confident enough to keep his action guns in their holster until a “drunken fist” set-piece some 30 minutes in.
Less frenetic pacing (by H.K. standards) works, thanks to the fuller surrounding characters. Ti Lung settles well into a strong role as Chan’s stern father, but it’s Mui, as Chan’s scheming, gambling-mad stepmom, who keeps the comic pot bubbling. Local heartthrob Andy Lau cameos briefly at the start.
Tech credits are all fine and, as usual in Chan movies, the end-title crawl includes botched takes, including some dangerous fire stunts in the smeltery finale. Though vet action director Lau Kar-leung (aka Liu Chia-liang) left the pic after a dispute with Chan, he still cops the main directing credit. Chinese title literally means “Drunken Fist II,” referring to a style of fighting.