Drunken Monkey (2003) Review

"Drunken Monkey" Chinese VCD Cover

“Drunken Monkey” Chinese VCD Cover

Director: Lau Kar-Leung
Writer: Li Pak Ling
Producer: Mona Fong
Cast: Lau Kar-Leung, Wu Jing, Chik Kun Kwan, Chiang Chun Wan, Shannon Yao, Lau Wing King, Gordon Liu Chia-hui, Li Hai Tao
Running Time: 97 min.

By Numskull

The first Shaw Brothers film since 1985. Lau Kar-Leung’s return to the director’s chair after eight years. The first old school, damn the torpedoes, honest-to-God Hong Kong martial arts flick of the new millennium, after a long string of crapfests starring pop music stars who have no business being in front of a movie camera. Just cause for fans of the genre to shriek with delight. The conditions surrounding Drunken Monkey, I’m afraid, are of considerably more significance than the film itself.

I’m not going to pretend that the production of this movie was a Great Big Deal for me. Unlike a lot of you folks, I’m not an especially devoted follower of the martial arts genre and I didn’t grow up on Saturday morning Kung Fu Theater on TV. My reaction to the news that the legendary Shaw Brothers studio was returning to active filmmaking and that one of its most esteemed directors was going to christen the comeback was a casual “hey, cool” as opposed to the fervent joy that a lot of the die-hards probably felt. So, it is with only moderate disappointment that I, with my limited expertise in this area, consider Drunken Monkey a largely unremarkable effort.

It starts out promisingly enough, with the principal actors doing a martial arts demo during the opening credits, like in many kung fu films of yesteryear. We are then introduced to Man Pao (Chiang Chun Wan) and Bill Chun-Yuen (Lau Kar-Leung), two brothers who run a delivery company for those extra-special, bandit-drawing packages. Man Pao uses the business to facilitate an opium smuggling operation, and when Bill finds out about this, he is marked for death by Yu Hoi-Yeung, Man Pao’s partner in crime. After a grueling battle with Yu and his henchmen, Bill is left for dead but found by a young woman named Mandy (Shannon Yao, who is welcome to come and kick my ass anytime she likes).

The film then jumps ahead by a year, and there is a drastic change in tone and focus. It now follows the exploits of Chan Ka-Yip (Lau Wing Kin) and his “grand-uncle” Tak (Jason Wu Jing), who is actually of comparable age. Ka-Yip is an artist who wants to illustrate a monkey style kung fu handbook and finds himself unable to finish the project in a satisfactory manner. Who better to resolve this problem than renowned monkey kung fu master Bill Chun-Yuen?

A. Nobody
B. A dead dog
C. King Kong
D. The gorilla from that phony “Ghostbusters” cartoon show that had nothing to do with the movie

Okay, let’s assume you selected “A” and move along. Ka-Yip and Tak fuck around for a while to pad the length of the film and then go looking for Bill. There’s a lot of irksome, buffoonish comedy in this phase of the movie. Ka-Yip has a high-spirited mother and a dour father, somewhat reminiscent of Wong Fei Hung’s dad and aunt in Drunken Master 2, which Lau Kar-Leung also directed until Jackie Chan got tired of having to use real kung fu and sacked him. I hoped that things would progress more steadily after these two dolts met Mandy and Hung Yat-fu (the one and only Gordon Liu), a detective who meets the Chun-Yuen brothers in the first part of the film. Alas, more lagging ensues. I don’t mind forty fightless minutes in a martial arts movie, as long as those forty minutes are filled with worthwhile stuff. But, The Tak & Ka-Yip Show wears out its welcome pretty quickly.

Things do heat up eventually, and after Ka-Yip and Tak get whipped into fighting shape by Bill (Mandy is already taken care of), there’s a big battle involving pretty much every surviving character, with Tak getting a bit more spotlight than the rest. Good stuff, but getting there was a chore.

Don’t get the idea that Drunken Monkey is a bad kung fu movie. I’ve seen worse. MUCH worse. But it’s not quite the Second Coming that some folks would expect from the circumstances surrounding its release.

Numskull’s Rating: 6/10

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