Drunken Master (1978): Directed by Yuen Woo-ping
Police Story (1985): Directed by Jackie Chan

People have asked me if I consider watching Jackie Chan movies as a guilty pleasure. Answer: Certainly not the Hong Kong made movies that he made his reputation with. And these are two of the very best films belonging in that category.

Drunken Master & Police Story

Like many films in a similar vein, Drunken Master focuses on the relationship between an apprentice and master albeit with a twist, the master here being a straw haired and red nosed senior citizen who is far too fond of Chinese wine.

The apprentice Wong Fei-hong, aka Naughty Panther, is played by Jackie Chan. He’s a talented fighter though one who requires far stricter self discipline if he is ever to achieve his potential. A prankster who drifts through life never far from mischief, Wong is highly likeable, and has a good heart. For example, when he discovers that a local man has been ripped off by an arrogant businessman, he promptly beats up the swindler, whose father then complains to Wong’s own father, Wong Kei-ying.

This influences Wong Senior’s decision to send his son off to study with Beggar So (Yuen Siu-tien) a man renowned equally for the extremity of his training techniques and his love of liquor.

Little old wine drinking So is a difficult taskmaster and several times a desperately unhappy Wong attempts to escape from his clutches. Eventually succeeding, the outside world unfortunately proves far crueller and the young man suffers humiliation when pitted in a fight against a killer for hire known as Thunderleg (Hwang Jang Lee).

‘You could study all your life and still never beat me,’ Thunderleg taunts him after displaying his superior skills, before making him crawl through his legs. ‘Killing a nobody like you would only sully my reputation.’

This acts as a catalyst for Wong to fully devote himself to perfecting his kung fu prowess with the help of Beggar So – which is fortunate as Thunderleg will soon be hired to kill Wong’s father.

Drunken Master still

Luckily it’s not long before Beggar So teaches the younger man the secrets of the Eight Drunken Gods, a martial arts technique that involves some degree of intoxication. To fight in this way requires equal parts boozed up stagger and martial arts swagger and makes it almost impossible for an opponent to anticipate what is coming next – and usually involves imbibing some bevvy during the course of the rumble.

Yes the plot is predictable and about as substantial as a prawn cracker and the humour is broad (trouser splitting and very bad comedy teeth for starters) but the choreography is spectacular and all achieved without the aid of wires or CGI.

While watching Chan, you might one minute think of Buster Keaton, the next of ballet or Golden Age of Hollywood musicals – only with kung fu clashes rather than elaborate song and dance routines.

It may not be the greatest martial arts film ever made but it is very possibly the most enjoyable.

In the wake of Bruce Lee’s early death in 1973, Hong Kong studios had tried their hardest to find a successor, or at least maybe con the public into thinking their movie had some connection to the dead star. A Bruce Le appeared and a Bruce Li, Bruce Lea and Bruce Lai, while film titles followed the cash-in trend. There was Enter Another Dragon, Enter Three Dragons and The New Game Of Death. And that’s just for starters.

Some producers attempted to push Jackie Chan as the man to take on Lee’s mantle but as Chan has explained, he never wanted to be the next Bruce Lee, only the first Jackie Chan.

Watching Police Story, you’ll see why I earlier mentioned him resembling Buster Keaton as much as Bruce Lee .

One of the most enjoyable 1980s action films from anywhere on the planet, the plot of Police Story, it would have to be admitted, is really just an excuse for breathtaking sequences with some of the best choreographed stunts you’re ever likely to see.

Chan Ka-Kui (Jackie Chan) is assigned to protect state’s witness Selina Fong (Bridgett Lin), who risks being murdered if she’s located before the trial begins of crime lord Chu Tao (Chor Yuen).

Police Story still

Chan kickstarts his film brilliantly with a shootout between cops and Chu’s gang that builds towards a car chase that obliterates a mountainside shanty town. This sensational sequence is directed with a high-octane pizzazz, and ends with Ka-Kui’s attempts to arrest Chu and his henchmen on a hijacked double-decker bus, an umbrella coming in very handy as he does so. But I should say no more.

Throughout the film, viewers may wonder how Chan could top the opening. He does during a climactic confrontation between Ka-Kui and the same men inside a shopping mall, that by the end of proceedings, is almost reduced to rubble. Amazing stuff and local glaziers must have been kept busy for weeks afterwards. Like Nick Lowe, Jackie Chan obviously loves the sound of breaking glass.

I won’t be the first reviewer to note that the middle of the film does sag at times. As in Drunken Master, the comedy elements are almost as childish as the set-piece stunts are ingenious. There are pies in the face, fart jokes and Jackie standing on dung and accidentally breaking into a little moonwalk while he attempts to wipe it from his shoes.

During the action, though, you have to be glad that Chan never went down the Bruce Lee clone road.

Police Story became a massive success, especially in East Asia and, according to Chan’s autobiography, it’s his favourite of the films he’s made although Drunken Master edges it for me.

Here’s the trailer for Police Story 1 & 2 from Eureka:

The above is a mash-up of a couple of reviews originally written for Louder Than War.

For more on Drunken Master click here, and here for more on Police Story.

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