MORIARTY Meets Jackie Chan and Talks DRUNKEN MASTER!!
Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.
It's been a long evening here in the Labs of comforting a broken-hearted friend. You know how it is. We've all been in that position, and it's always hard because there's nothing you can say to make the pain easier. All you can do is offer up your shoulder to cry on and ride out the rollercoaster with them. I may be Evil, but I'm not hardhearted. It's exhausting, and because of that, I'm going to let Knowles off the hook regarding his entirely unseemly and factually inaccurate introduction to my TIME MACHINE piece yesterday and just get down to business.
When I saw THE LEGEND OF DRUNKEN MASTER almost two weeks ago, then went to meet Jackie Chan for breakfast the next day, I was told that I wasn't allowed to write about the film until the day of release. Rather an odd restriction for a film that's been out since 1994, but entirely understandable considering the reaction I had to this particular version of the film. To be honest, it's taken me this long to figure out what I thought of the thing, and I'm still not sure I've sorted it out.
Let me share an e-mail with you that I got in earlier today from one of our readers. This is the reaction of someone who had never seen DRUNKEN MASTER II, and it's interesting to see his reaction to seeing this for the first time. GravyAkira... take it away.
Whats up Moriarty. Its been a long time since I have had a chance to put a
review on the net for. My good old theater here in my hometown decided to show a film today. A film experience I have never experienced in my life. The man who runs the theater got to show The Legend of Drunken Master early before it is released wide on Friday. Now I was talking to a guy on aintitcool a while ago, and we got into a Jet Li Jackie Chan argument. Now I am one of the biggest Jet Li and Jackie Chan fans alive. I stated that I felt that Jet Li is a better martial artist and that Fist of Legend is the greatest martial arts film ever made. He then mentioned a film of Chan's called Drunken Master 2. Now I had seen Drunken Master. It was good. But I had never seen Drunken Master 2. I didn't know one existed. Skip forward a couple of weeks and aintitcool mentions the re release of Drunken Master 2 into the theaters. I would finally be able to see this film. My local video stores do not have the tape so my only way of seeing it would be in the theaters. About two weeks ago I was watching the premiere of that sorry ass excuse for a show Dark Angel. I was bored out of my mind when a commercial for Legend of Drunken Master appeared on TV. Looks cool, I still don't see how this is going to beat Fist of Legend. Then Tuesday arrives and there is an ad in the paper for a special screening for this film. Lets see how Jackie can top Jet. Not a lot of people were there. I say about 15 at most. The movie started and then my world changed.
Now a lot of you are still amazed by the Matrix. When I first saw the film in the theater, I was blown away. I waited like a mad man for the DVD, and when it was released, I bought it first day. It was not the same film as in the theater. I still love the film, but its still in my opinion, overrated. With Drunken Master 2, that problem will not take effect. Jackie Chan's skill is just amazing. Every fight scene is so fluid, fast, and beautiful, it made me want to cry. By the time the final 15 minute drunken brawl was taking place, the small crowd was pumped. I have never gotten into a film like this. When I first saw the Matrix, I was very pumped for the fight scenes. And they were also amazing. But that was 6 months of training, wires, and special effects. What Jackie does, no change that, what all the main characters in Drunken Master 2 do, took a life time to develop, and it pays off. By the time this film ended, I and the rest of the people in the theater had so much adrenaline in us we just felt like killing ourselves trying to do the things done in this film.
I have not seen Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon yet, but if creates even half of the heat pounding martial arts action as Drunken Master provides, it will be great. I still love Fist of Legend. And I still like Jet just a little more than Jackie, but that has nothing to do with overall talent. I just like the menacing look of Li when he fights. But as much as I love Fist of Legend with all its bone breaking action and lightning fast Jet Li, it has to move over to the new champ, with the most amazingly genius choreographed fight scenes ever filmed, Drunken Master 2(Legend Of Drunken Master) is the Citizen Kane of martial arts movies. For anybody who have not seen this film, do yourself a favor and tell as many people as you can to see this film. Get as many film geeks as possible, and go see this masterpiece on the big screen. Make an event out of it. I am serious when I say this, along with Fight Club, are the best experiences in a movie theater ever. Be ready. See ya!
I know I had much the same reaction the first time I saw DRUNKEN MASTER II. That was on laserdisc about four years ago. I had to watch the thing four times in a row just because I couldn't believe some of what I was seeing. When Harry Lime came with me to see this new release version, he had the same kind of reaction that GravyAkira had. He lost his mind. He was stunned. So it was strange to walk out of the theater with him irritated by what I'd just seen. I don't want to sound like a kid complaining about the wrong kind of wrapping paper on the world's best Christmas present, but that's sort of the position I find myself in here. Yes... it is marvelous to see this film on a bigscreen. But as Sony prepares to release CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON in the original language and subtitled, it strikes me as somewhat gutless for Miramax to release this film in what can only be described as a laughably bad dubbed version with an atrocious score grafted onto the film. I think we've reached the point as audiences where we are fully capable of reading subtitles and enjoying a film like this. There's a fundamental disrespect for the original picture that seeps through when pointless cuts are made and when things that made the film a classic are tampered with for no good reason.
I know that, for me, Anita Mui's performance is damaged beyond repair in this release. It's one of the funniest female performances of its type I've ever seen... broad in one beat, subtle in the next, and a large part of what makes it work is Anita's vocal work. Her fake crying, her little noises of surprise and indignation... it's all part of the palette for a comic performer, and the actress who dubs her isn't 1/10th the comic that Mui is. All I can hope is that people will see this, love it, and seek out the original to get the experience that they were intended to have.
When I showed up at the Four Seasons the morning after seeing the film, I was feeling a fair amount of trepidation at my reaction to the new cut of the movie. I didn't want to hammer Chan about it, since I knew it wasn't his fault. To be honest, I was amazed they got him to do press for a film he did in 1994. Jackie makes roughly 800 movies a year, so it must be hard for him to remember what he did last month, let alone six years ago. When I arrived, they were still setting up, and they offered breakfast to myself and the couple of other journos who had arrived. I found myself having a conversation with a woman who thought RUSH HOUR was the best film Jackie's ever made, and the sheer ridiculousness of that idea combined with the early hour kept me quiet.
We finally got shown into the room where we were to chat with Jackie, and as we walked in, we were each introduced to Jackie's producer. If anyone said the gentleman's name, they didn't say it to me, so I apologize to him if he reads this. He asked each of the reporters which outlet they were from. When he asked me and I said "Ain't It Cool," he broke into a wide smile.
"You've been very nice to Jackie on your web page," he said.
"Well, it's not hard. Jackie's one of those guys... one of those icons."
"What name do you have on the web page?" he asked.
He nodded, still smiling. "You wrote about this movie before. You put it on your list."
I was impressed. He was right. I included the original release version on my Best of '94 list. "Yes, I did."
Without breaking his smile at all, he said, "So when are you going to finish your '90s Lists?" I tried to stammer some lame explanation about how much work goes into each one and how I'm working on them, but by that point we were all being ushered to our seats. Great. So now I'm being prodded about my tardiness on an international level.
I had just basically sat down when Jackie Chan was ushered in. The first thing that struck me upon meeting him was how compact he is as a person. You sit through that amazing final fight with Ken Lo in DRUNKEN MASTER II, you can't help but find him physically imposing. But standing there in front of me, he seemed trim, even slight. Until the handshake. As soon as I felt his hand clamp mine like iron, I had to smile. It's not just a show. There's crazy power in that grip.
Most of the questions asked of Jackie in the painfully brief moment we had with him were inane. "Who made the suit you're wearing?" "Is it hard to do a fight scene?" Knowing how much press Jackie's done around the world in the course of his career, I am amazed at what an engaging personality he is, no matter what's thrown at him. He answered each question with that same bouyant energy, that same basic charm.
I brought up SNAKE IN EAGLE'S SHADOW, one of the kung-fu films we saw on Kung-Fu Night at QT Quattro this year. If you're lucky enough to be able to play UK DVDs, find this one, since it was just released there. It's the film he made just before the original DRUNKEN MASTER, and in it, Siu Tien Yuen plays an old martial arts master who disguises himself as a beggar. He becomes Jackie's teacher in the film. It's a pretty common archetype. Hell, QT showed Harry and I another kung-fu film with Siu Tien Yuen playing almost the exact same role called JADE CLAW here in LA. I asked Jackie if he sees himself playing those roles at some point in the future, or if he thinks he's going to move behind the camera exclusively at some point.
"Behind the camera, definitely," he said. "I want to make films with other people, and I want to open a school here to train stuntment to make movies like we do in Hong Kong." Cool idea. We're seeing Eastern culture coopted by Western filmmakers now more than ever before. Why not make sure our stuntmen are trained by the people who perfected these styles of action?
Jackie began to excitedly talk about how deceptive the fight scenes in his movies are. "The stuntmen... they help me, you know?" When Jackie runs up against an idea that he can't quite express verbally, he seems only momentarily frustrated. In this case, he jumped up from his chair and grabbed me by the arm, pulling me up from my seat. He started to talk again to the other reporters about how the stuntmen are actually doing tricks to make him look better during their fight scenes, and as he did so, he moved me so I was standing in a ready stance, arms up.
I hope my smile wasn't too obvious as Jackie suddenly turned and came lunging in at me, whipping punches off on either side of my right arm, which stayed ready, held in the same position he placed it. I heard him say something about "support," and then he suddenly threw his whole weight forward, catching himself on my arm, using his forearm to hold himself up.
For a moment, Jackie stood there, his whole weight leaned forward and balanced precariously on my arm, and I almost laughed out loud. This is the real reason Miramax and the always lovely, always charming Peggy Malloy invited me to this breakfast. They knew that Jackie is an irresistable force in a room. I doubt they had any idea they'd be giving me one of those indelible memories that, as a film geek, I will treasure, but sometimes you just get lucky.
Jackie finally leaned back and I took my seat again. I was all set to ask Jackie about what I considered a butchering of DRUNKEN MASTER II when he began to talk about how long that film's been sitting on a shelf here in America and how proud he is to finally have some form of it in theaters and how Miramax had bought it and then just sat on it for so long, and I realized that hammering Jackie with hard questions about the film would be pointless. He's just happy to finally have some of his best work available to the American public. As he talked about taking four months to shoot the final fight sequence... yes, that steel mill showdown with his real-life bodyguard Ken Lo took four full months to choreograph and photograph... I could hear the pride he still takes in what he accomplished. He spoke about how much more latitude there is when making a film in Hong Kong to just sit and contemplate things on a set, as opposed to on an American film, where the producers would kill him if he took that long with one scene. Based on the final work produced, I think there might be something to letting him have that extra breathing room.
Other things Jackie revealed over the course of the interview included the fact that he's going to be reuniting with Owen Wilson for SHANGHAI NIGHT, a film that Jackie promises they'll have much more control over. He evidently hit it off with Wilson, and the two of them have ideas for the sequel and how to make it bigger and better than the original. That's great to hear, since the main thing that works about the first film is the chemistry between them.
He spoke very briefly about how insane the rest of his year is, including the RUSH HOUR sequel he's about to start work on, and then the interview was over. It was less than 20 minutes total that we spent with him, and it seemed like the blink of an eye while I was there.
In the end, do I recommend seeing THE LEGEND OF DRUNKEN MASTER in theaters? Hell, yes, I do. It's a staggeringly great movie, even with what Miramax has done to it. For purists, it's an affront, but they're purists... whatcha gonna do? For many audiences, this will be their introduction to a film that I consider absolutely vital to its genre, one of the greats. And if you do see it for the first time, and you fall for the film and its many virtues, then do yourself the favor of searching out an original language version of the movie so you can see it as it was released in the first place. Maybe Miramax will grow the stones to release films like this the same way they released THE POSTMAN or LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL, respecting them enough to subtitle them, preserving the integrity of the experience instead of ghettoizing them as "action movies" that aren't worthy of that treatment. Until then...