REVIEW: Shaolin Drunken Monk (1981)

shaolindrunkenmonk

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1981, Star Sea Motion Picture Co. Ltd.

Director:
Ulysses Au
Producer:
Kuk Hing-Wa
Writer:
Ko Koh
Cinematography:
Yi Hai-Fung
Editing:
Chen Kuen

Cast
:
Gordon Liu (Lau Chung)
Chang Mi-Hee (Ying-Ying)
Eagle Han (Wong Kin-Chung)
Kim Ki-Joo (The Drunken Hermit)
Wong Yat-Cho (Kam)
Choi Jeong-Il (Wong’s #1)
Chin Yuet-Sang (Wong’s #2)

Gordon Liu once again joins forces with his elder brother Lau Kar-Leung on this action packed film that surprisingly the elder Lau did not direct, but a great film nevertheless.

Mantis Fist master Wong Kin-Chung has plans to take over his clan after the death of his master. It has been a plan he has orchestrated for years, even going as far as hurting innocent people. However, he soon learns that someone has killed a member of his gang. He realizes that the man is former member Kam, who lost his hand a while back after betraying Wong.

Things get more complicated when a bald headed man has kidnapped Wong’s daughter Ying-Ying and has held her captive so he can lure Wong out. The man is Lau Chung, who as a boy, was almost killed by Wong and his gang only be saved by a drunken hermit. The hermit has taught Lau Chung the Drunken Fist style. It is apparent that Kam and Lau Chung will eventually have to team up to exact their revenge on Wong and his minions before it is too late.

The beginning of this film, shot on location in Korea, may seem a bit confusing. One is not sure who exactly is the hero of the film, until it becomes akin to The Secret Rivals that there are two heroes in the film, one a one-handed man and the other a bald headed Drunken Fist expert. The film also bodes confusing on when there are flashbacks and when there are present time scenes. The script may seem somewhat of a fatal flaw when it comes to this genre, but once the film does finally run smoothly, about midway through, it all makes sense.

Gordon Liu once again shines, making any role he is given his own. Many feel this may just be another rip-off of his famous film The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, but that is far from the truth. The reason for the title is that Liu being in it, it is an automatic assumption that he plays a Shaolin monk. However, his character of Lau Chung never trains at the Shaolin Temple. Instead, he gets his training from a beggar in the art of Drunken Fist. He plays the typical kung fu hero out for revenge against the man who murdered his family, but makes it his own.

Most of the supporting cast consists of Korean martial arts film stars and actors. The late Eagle Han is great as the villainous Master Wong, who uses both Mantis Fist and some of his trademark high kicking agility. Chang Mi-Hee plays the typical damsel in distress that is given a dose of reality when she learns who she really is and who exactly is her kidnapper. Kim Ki-Joo provides a bit of comic relief as Lau Chung’s beggar teacher while the likes of Kwon Il-Soo and the awesome Choi Jeong-Il (in his film debut) play two of Master Wong’s cronies. One is not sure what to make of one-hit wonder Wong Yat-Cho, who plays Lau Chung’s one-handed ally Kam, as to whether he is Korean or Chinese. Nevertheless, he pulls off a nice performance as the one-handed man who learns to once again trust someone thanks to Lau Chung.

While the legendary Lau Kar-Leung didn’t direct this film (the film was directed by Ulysses Au), Kar-Leung served as the film’s martial arts supervisor with veteran Chin Yuet-Sang serving (who plays another of Wong’s cro ies) as assistant choreographer.  The late Lau always had respect for all brands of martial arts and here, he implores Drunken Fist, Mantis Fist, and the kicking agilities of his Korean stars. Knowing that his adopted brother would be facing off against many kickers, he adapted Gordon Liu to use more footwork in his fight scenes in addition to the Drunken Fist style. While Gordon Liu doesn’t have the kicks of a Hwang Jang-Lee or a Tan Tao-Liang, Gordon’s main kick, a jumping front push kick, looks quite powerful when he uses it.  Aside from Drunken Fist, Gordon does use a bit of Hung Gar, especially when facing off against Choi Jeong-Il in the film’s nicely filmed finale.

Shaolin Drunken Monk is definitely a wonderful film due to the intense fight sequences of the film. While the storyline may seem a bit confusing, it all pans out leading to an exciting conclusion. Definitely an underrated Gordon Liu classic!

WFG RATING: B

DVD

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