Jackie Chan has always craved mainstream stardom in America, and he particularly wanted to have a big audience for "Drunken Master 2." Indeed, the martial arts star spent four months on just the final twenty-minute fight sequence in "Drunken Master 2." However, "Drunken Master 2" was released in 1994, a few years before "Rumble in the Bronx," "Rush Hour," and "Shanghai Noon" made him a bankable star in America.
In the wake of the success of the theatrical release of "Rumble in the Bronx," studios like New Line and Dimension rushed to pick up the domestic distribution rights to Jackie Chan's other Hong Kong films. Given the fact that the studios did not pay very much for these rights, some of these films enjoyed brief stints in movie theaters before hitting the video market. Well, in the fall of 2000, Jackie Chan and Dimension Films felt that the American market was finally ready for something more "exotic," so "Drunken Master 2" was finally given a wide release last year, and the film bore a new name: "The Legend of Drunken Master." Chan even took the time to dub his own voice into English.
In "The Legend of Drunken Master," Chan plays Chinese folk hero Wong Fei-hung. Wong Fei-hung accidentally stumbles upon a British plot to steal Chinese treasures and artifacts and to ship them off to the British Museum in London. Now, it is up to Wong Fei-hung, his supportive stepmother (Anita Mui, who's actually YOUNGER than Chan in real life), and other patriotic Chinese citizens to stop the British and Chinese profiteers who have turned their backs on their country's heritage.
You know, the plot sounds like something for a more heavy-duty drama, but what the heck. Kung fu movies are about heroes defying impossible odds, and Jackie Chan takes on so many opponents that he seems more superhuman than folk hero. But, all of the action in his films are done in good fun. Chan's physicality reminds audiences of the grace and athleticism of Buster Keaton's physical humor, and on the "Shanghai Noon" DVD, Chan himself admits to aspiring to Keaton's high level of comedy. "The Legend of Drunken Master" contains fights choreographed with such grace, poetry, and a laugh-out-loud factor that you'll be giggling, crying, slapping your thighs, and gaping in wonder all at once.
I have some reservations about the way that American studios handle Jackie Chan's older movies. Sure, the quality of the DVDs are much nicer than the import versions made in Asia, and sure, mainstream American consumers are more liable to discover the joys and wonders of a Jackie Chan film if there are "American" versions available at retailers. This convenience and availability comes at a price, though. The films are often edited and cut in length (as with "The Legend of Drunken Master"), and sometimes the original Cantonese or Mandarin language tracks are not included on the DVDs. Both actions are crimes committed against the original films.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer of "The Legend of Drunken Master" is a mixed bag. For its recent theatrical re-release, the film received a minor restoration, and a new print was probably struck. However, the DVD transfer seems to use a theatrical print rather than a negative. Therefore, there are "reel change burn" marks in the upper right hand corner, and the dust that gathered on the print during its round in theaters constantly intrudes on the picture. These are very noticeable problems, but the video image also looks very clear. Colors look more natural than other martial arts films picked up on the cheap by Dimension (the Jet Li films handled by the studio look particularly bad).
For the 2000 American re-release of "The Legend of Drunken Master," Dimension created a new Dolby Digital 5.1 mix of the film's soundtrack. However, the DVD does not have the movie's original Cantonese language track, only an English and a French dub. Both dubs come as full DD 5.1 tracks on the DVD.
The newly mixed elements sound very wide and spacious, and the music score provides a lot of bass. What surprised me the most was that the audio engineers took the time to create a mix that sounds very natural and alive, with nature sounds in the background and dialogue being panned through more than one speaker so that it sounds as if a character is moving across the room.
All is not good, though. The voice acting is atrocious. When you do a dub, it's always better to have people speak without accents. For the English dub, they should've used people who speak perfectly good, unaccented English. Yes, I know that Jackie Chan did his own dubbing, but still, that doesn't improve the situation. The poor grammar of the dub cast is highly insulting. After all, it's not as if the cast spoke poor Cantonese in the original audio track.
Jackie Chan and the handlers of the film's re-release should've created an English dub that paralles the French dub--have voice actors NOT affect a Chinese accent. In a sense, I found the film to be more enjoyable watching it in French with subtitles! For a good English dub job, watch the "Akira" Special Edition DVD.
Overall, the new DD 5.1 track is a surprisingly good remix of what were probably mono elements, but I have to deduct some points for the lousy English dubbing job.
(Optional English subtitles and closed captions are available.)
The DVD features an interview with Jackie Chan titled "Behind the Master." Chan gives a brief overview of his approach to martial arts choreography as well as his long-time desire to have "Drunken Master" find an American audience. He mentions how proud he is of the film, and he should be. He should be ashamed of the English dub and the cuts made to this fine flick, though.
What else is there on the DVD? Well, you can watch twelve previews of Jackie Chan and Jet Li movies acquired by Dimension Films.
A one-sheet glossy insert displays the DVD cover art on one side and chapter listings on the other.
Well, for me, this is a difficult thing to do, but I'm going to have to recommend this DVD edition of "The Legend of Drunken Master." I mean, not only has the title been changed, but the film itself has been truncated, and the lack of the film's original Cantonese Chinese language track bothers me to no end. However, this is a Jackie Chan film, and perhaps the dialogue matters not as much as the amazing fight choreography on display. Indeed, "The Legend of Drunken Master" features some of the most spectacular fights ever staged. Given the not-too-shabby video and audio quality of the DVD, I'd say that it's worth your while to buy it.