Drunken Monkey (HK 2003)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 10/4/00
Director: Lau Kar Leung (Liu Chia Liang)
Martial Arts Choreography: Lau Kar Leung (Liu Chia Liang)
Cast: Lau Kar Leung (Liu Chia Liang), Liu Chia Hui (Gordon Liu), Jackie Wu, Shannon Yao

A real treat for kung fu fans, as legendary director Lau Kar Leung revisits the old school Shaw Brothers style that made him famous. Leung's amazing choreography showcases the details of form and the impact of full contact fighting, with very minimal wire work. One could say it's the first "real" kung fu movie of the millenium. The first treat is seeing the movie open up on an empty sound stage where the players are all introduced one by one while practicing their particular fighting style. And to wrap things up, the film even closes in the traditional style of the era, with a goofy freeze frame.

The story concerns a well regarded delivery service in the 1930s, run by Man Bill (Lau Kar Leung). The company flourishes under his command, but the younger members have loftier ambitions of fame and fortune, and decide to take over the company. Betrayed and left for dead, Man Bill slowly recovers and lives in seclusion with the adorable Mandy (Shannon Yao). Man Bill is also a master of Monkeyish Fist kung fu, which he teaches to Mandy. At the same time, Jackie Wu and his cousin Ka Yip are busy writing a martial arts manual on Monkeyish Fist and are determined to find the old master. Much silliness ensues, which eventually leads to all out warfare between Man Bill and his old clan.

The film is a very refreshing look at the classic kung fu genre, but it sadly suffers the same pitfalls. First of all, there's a heavy comedic tone to the film, which is inappropriate and just doesn't work at all. It feels like those god-awful studio imposed comedies that nearly forced Leung out of the industry back in the 80's. While Jackie Wu handles the goofy elements with charm and flair, they're still just that. Goofy. Also, like some of Leung's other period pieces, the film seems out of place in time. The fashions are all over the board, both culturally and chronologically, so the film comes off looking very bizarre and inconsistent. But, as you would expect from Leung, he makes up for it in the action sequences. The cinematography is wonderful, although slightly marred by modern editing shortcuts. For a man in his 60's, he can still kick some serious ass. It's also a real treat to see Gordon Liu come out of retirement and exchange blows with Leung. Maybe I'm just overly sentimental. Jackie Wu does a very good job with his material, but I'm still not overly fond of him. Newcomer Shannon Yao is an excellent femme fighter, with all of the grace and beauty that you'd expect from one of Leung's actresses. Definitely a good time for fans of the genre, but it has little else to offer.