Drunken Tai Chi (1984)

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Donnie Yen is one of Hong Kong’s top action stars today and his illustrious career began with this classic kung fu comedy that was released nearly thirty five years ago.

Cheng Do is a young man who spends his time playing and getting into all sorts of mischief, especially when it comes to showing up local rich boy Ta Sha. Cheng is being groomed by his father to be a scholar while Cheng’s brother is hard working but ignored except for Cheng himself, who is loyal to his brother. When Ta Sha’s plan for revenge results in him being in a full body cast, Ta Sha’s father has a plan set in motion.

An assassin known as Iron Steel is hired to kill Cheng and his family. While Cheng is out playing a game for money, Iron Steel manages to kill Cheng’s father and brother. When Cheng returns and learns of the tragic news, he is heartbroken and upset. The next day, Cheng finds an elderly puppet master being abused by some thugs. However, Cheng breaks the puppet master’s stage and as a result, he must work for him. Cheng soon learns that the puppet master is an expert in the art of Tai Chi. He offers, along with his wife, to train Cheng in the soft martial art. Cheng soon learns the truth behind his family’s death and sets out to use his newfound skills to avenge his family.

This is the film that kickstarted the career of a martial arts talent who would go on to rise through the ranks to become one of the biggest names in action films today. His name is Donnie Yen and he was discovered by Yuen Woo-Ping, who cast Yen in the lead role of this classic kung fu comedy. While the film looks to be a standard kung fu comedy in the vein of Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and Drunken Master, Yuen did direct both films and his intent was to launch a new star and did he succeed.

Yen plays the rebellious young fighter who is expected for bigger and better things through the eyes of his father, while he shows loyalty to his hard working older brother. He then learns through tragedy and fate that he is ready to become both humble and willing to fight when it comes to avenging his family.  Yuen Cheung-Yan, who sports the same bucktooth look as Shaolin Drunkard, brings both the action and hysterics in the role of the mentor, a puppeteer who is an expert in Tai Chi. The legendary Lydia Shum also provides a sense of comedy as the puppeteer’s wife, who also helps Yen’s Cheng Do on occasion with his training.

Once again, Eagle Yuen Shun-Yi provides for an amazing villain in the assassin Iron Steel. However, unlike other villains he has played, this Iron Steel is not completely bad. A subplot involves him having a son, building a horse from scratch, and presenting it to him. We also learn he is mute and just wants what’s best for his son, hence his job as an assassin since it is clear his fighting skills are all he tends to have. The mere fact he was a hired gun on part from Don Wong’s noble henchman and the friendship between Cheng Do and the assassin’s son brings a sense of conflict. A fun fact in the film is that on the night of Cheng’s plan to avenge his family from the nobleman, he is seen pretending to be a puppet who breakdances, which is a precursor to Yen and Yuen’s 1985 team-up Mismatched Couples.

Drunken Tai Chi is quite a starring vehicle for the young Donnie Yen. It is clear that he has the skills and eventually chops to become an action star in the making…and he succeeds to a major tee!

WFG RATING: A-

A Peace Film Co. Ltd. Production. Director: Yuen Woo-Ping. Producers: Ng Kung and P.C. Chang. Writers: The Peace Group. Cinematography: Chan Wing-Shu. Editing: Wong Chau-Kwai and Robert Choi.

Cast: Donnie Yen, Yuen Cheung-Yan, Eagle Yuen, Yuen Yat-Chor, Lydia Shum, Mandy Chan, Don Wong, Lee Kwan, Chang Hsun.

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