Everybody loves a good drunk, and while Americans may have at one time giggled at WC Fields and Foster Brooks antics, no one loved a drunk more than the old school Chinese kung fu movies of the late 70's after Drunken Master hit the screens. Kung Fu of 8 Drunkards (1980) is one such imitator, co-starring and directed by HK film veteran Wu Ma- Circus Kids, Just Heroes, Shaolin Deadly Kicks, Dead and the Deadly.
This time we open with our stereotypical boyish young hero Chang Fung (Meng Fei -Prodigal Boxer, Shaolin Kung Fu Mystagogue, 5 Masters of Death ) being trained by the stereotypical surly, unkempt, mean, toothless drunken master. Chang Fung returns home to his uncles restaurant and trouble arises when he is in a crowd watching a guy whupping some locals; he chases a scrappy gambler/thief named Monkey (Wu Ma) and they end up on stage where Chang Fung soundly trounces the intimidating brute everyione was watching. Observing this is a gang of brother bandits who once had a foe in an old drunken master, someone they thought they had beaten, now they see someone else who knows his peculair style... you get the idea. Soon they are following Chang Fung, hassling him, getting his sick uncle and cousin kicked out of their restaurant and home, left destitute on the street. Fung and family find a little help in Monkey and a adept martial girl, but while Chang Fung manages to defeat some of the brothers, it will take more training before he is able to defeat the heads of the clan.
Being a Wu Ma film and a Drunken Master clone, the emphasis is on lowbrow, silly comedy. In the films opening monuments, Wu Ma reads a sign on a wall stating no public urination, and... get ready to laugh... he's reading it while peeing... he then interrupts a gambling game, gets kicked out, so he returns with firecrackers, tying the mens hair together so they stumble and bonk heads when he surprises them. Anyway, I'm not much for clowning in my kung fu, but it was modestly tolerable and didn't annoy me too much, though there are some long stretches of comedy and no fight scenes. Though it is his comedy that defines him as a director, I still think Wu Ma's best film is the deadly serious The Heroes.
As far as the action, it was okay but suffers a bit. For instance, one brother is played by Lung Fei (Buddha Assassinator, Strike of the Mantis Fist, Master of the Flying Guillotine), and the setup is great: he mysteriously walks around with a hat over his head, ominous, twitching his neck, but when it comes time to fight, after all the tense build up, Meng Fei just beats the tar out of him. Of course, when he does really get into trouble with one of the brothers, we get the standard training scenes, balancing on jugs, gripping tea cups, and then he easily beats the brother, ripping his throat out Road House Swayze style. Then, at the finale, we suddenly get two new villain characters Gold and Silver Tiger, who once again, are broken and thrashed to death easily. Then, there is the final fight with Chen Sing (Mask of Death, Invisible Fist, Shanghai 13 ), who suffers form the old, "villain who appears five seconds in the middle of the movie only so he can then show up at the end for the final fight" syndrome- which I just saw this week (again with Chen Sing) when I reviewed Dual Flying Kicks.
Meng Fei's appeal is almost as big a puzzler as the HK taste in idiot humor. Here I get the two squashed together. Okay, so he's clearly talented and has boyish good looks, but for me, Meng Fei always lacked the crucial intensity that makes really good martial performers. Even in a comedic film and primarily comedic kung fu stars like Jackie and Sammo, there is a deadly intensity to the action, something their faces and body carry, this physical elation that I don't feel from Meng Fei. 8 Drunkards is a perfect example because his drunken style stinks. What makes drunken style interesting is it is loopy but with power; Jackie Chan always looked off balance, but Meng Fei is too sure footed and calculated, doesn't look the slightest bit tipsy. He doesn't actually guzzle any spirits, which is odd. Why on Earth make a drunken style film if the lead isn't going to get or pretend to be drunk?. I don't doom all Meng Fei films before they begin, he's still had some great stuff, he's capable enough, but I just don't see why he would have a devoted fan base for his cinematic presence. 8 Drunkards further proves, to me anyway, that his appeal mostly boils down to his good looks. Okay, and he does do this really neat flip and lands on one leg, but still... he's a weenie. I have little doubt that it will be a cold day in Hell before some lightweight like Meng Fei could beat up a snarling, enraged Chen Sing.
Well, as one Drunken Master clones, I wasn't too impressed. It certainly wasn't one of the worst I've seen, but I'd recommend Jade Claw or Sleeping Fist over 8 Drunkards any day.
The DVD: World Video
Picture: Cropped Full-screen. Once again, another lackluster tape transfer, this one shows okay sharpness and color but unfortunately is dirty and has quite a bit of wear, weak contrast that is especially annoying in the darker scenes, the image almost becoming almost white and fluctuating. Aside from the image problems with the print, there are some transfer defects, pauses, stutters, and artifacts.
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono, English dub. While the track has no hiss or pops and for the most part is nice and clear, then it all goes bad. For the final third of the movie the old Cantonese dialogue track can be heard in the background. A very big annoyance.
Extras: 8 Chapters--- World Video Trailers--- Web info
Conclusion: Well, lets just forget the fact that overall, aside from some of the final fights, I wasn't very amused or entertained by this clone film. The transfer is pretty poor. There is a version out there by Ground Zero, which although I do not have and cannot judge the quality, probably isn't much worse and has more extras. This edition gets a "Skip it'.