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Posts Tagged ‘Action films’

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Monday 24th February 2014 Leave a comment

It’s been about 10 years since I last watched the first Pirates movie, but I remember it fondly as a very entertaining action-adventure film. Then the two sequels came out: Dead Man’s Chest had some decent bits but was a far more flawed film than the original, but like The Matrix Reloaded those flaws could have been forgiven had the concluding third film clicked all the pieces into place; unfortunately, like The Matrix Revolutions, At World’s End failed to do that in a satisfying way.

Now I’ve finally got round to watching On Stranger Tides, and… ‘Salright, I s’pose.

Wisely, the running time and sheer scale are reigned-in compared to At World’s End: last time we had giant sea goddesses, giant kraken, swordfights on giant rolling water-wheels and swordfights on horizontal ships stuck in giant whirlpools; this time we have human-sized mermaids, and swordfights set on solid ground. I mean, the action’s still ridiculous and implausible, but at it’s a relief to see the series retreating a little from the “bigger=better” philosophy.

Unfortunately the smaller scale doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s very good action. I remember that a clip showing Jack’s escape from King George was the first pre-release promotional clip I saw from this film, and it was the thing that put me off watching it entirely. There are better action scenes later on in the film (Jack tackling some Spanish soldiers with a rope wrapped round a coconut, for example), but this is an action film in which the action is probably the least exciting part. It’s not that it’s hard to tell what’s going on, the fights are competently shot in that respect, it’s just all… somehow tedious. If you care about the characters and stakes, you can be enthralled by any action scene, whether it’s short and mundane, or ridiculously OTT in scale – you don’t start nitpicking flaws, because you don’t want to. But if you find the action dull, you actively look for problems, and start asking pesky questions like “Hey, why didn’t that baddie attack our hero just then, he had a clear opening?” and “It may have been off-screen, but surely that guard would have seen him dodge out of sight just now?” and “THIS IS SILLY I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT WOULD EVER HAPPEN”. (Yes, I know that last one’s not a question.) Consequently, the blacksmith’s shop swordfight early in the first Pirates film is still probably the best action sequence the series ever had.

Onto some more positive notes (with qualifiers):

I thought that Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End were at their best when they went all surreal and supernatural, with memorable images like the crab army and the intentional capsizing of a ship at sunset. On Stranger Tides has much less of that sort of thing, but what is seen works well: shrunken ships in bottles like Superman’s Kandor, water droplets that flow in reverse, a ship whose rigging comes alive at its captain’s command.

Blackbeard’s a good villain; his attitude is more deadpan and his tone of voice more cultured than that of the other pirates, which makes it somewhat disappointing that they give him the same “arr, that it be” speech patterns as a character like Barbossa. The mermaids are good, though I’m not quite sure what the point was of giving them Splash-style leg transformations, since after we see it happen to one she never walks but just gets gets carried. The absence of Orloondo Bland (thank you, Mark Kermode, for giving the world that name!) is good; his equivalent in this film is much better, a cleric whose relationship with one of those mermaids is probably the film’s best subplot. (The film’s concerns about religious faith and whether Edward Teach’s soul can ever be saved also work well: sketched in just well enough to give the relationships between Blackbeard, the missionary, and Penélope Cruz’s character some weight, without becoming obtrusive.)

Against my better judgement, I still quite like Johnny Depp flouncing around in the role of Jack Sparrow. Sorry.

The film’s depiction of the ritual involved in drinking from the Fountain of Youth is extremely reminiscent of the Holy Grail scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and compared to that, it comes off… poorly.

And there’s also something else that the film reminded me of. There are voodoo dolls in this movie. I’m not sure if they are from the original On Stranger Tides novel, but I know what they put me in mind of, and Pirates of the Caribbean really, definitely is no Monkey Island 2.

2.5/5

Licence to Kill (1989)

Monday 8th April 2013 Leave a comment

It’s been a long time since I last watched Licence to Kill, that most ’80s-ish of the ’80s Bond movies. In my memory it’s always been one of my least favourite entries in the entire series. I’m pleased to say that upon today’s rewatch, I enjoyed it a lot more, and can now honestly say I like it – even if I still don’t think it’s anywhere near as good as Dalton’s preceding film The Living Daylights.

The plane-hooking opening sequence is fun (just look at that shot of Felix Leiter and his DEA allies’ slow-mo charge forward – see, told you it was oh-so-’80s!), but the movie doesn’t really start to get good until Bond discovers the very brutal thing that happened to Felix Leiter and his new wife. The idea of Bond going rogue on a personal mission outside of MI6 is a good one, but not enough is really made of it. Unlike something like the later Mission: Impossible, it doesn’t feel like Bond’s former allies could be just as much of an obstacle as the bad guys: a while after Bond’s “with one bound he was free” escape in the scene with M, one agent turns up angry at him, then immediately dies, and that’s pretty much it. Bond’s licence to kill is revoked, but this has absolutely no effect on his ability to proceed to kill just as many people as ever. He even still gets to have Q helping him – in one of that character’s biggest roles, in fact!

Having said that, it’s not quite true to say that this might as well be an officially sanctioned mission: I really like the neat plotting of the way Bond’s solo quest for vengeance screws up two other groups’ attacks on Sanchez. The way 007 effectively fuels Sanchez’s concerns about betrayal within his organisation is also good, and the length of time Sanchez remains oblivious to the fact that Bond is his enemy makes for an extremely unusual Bond movie. Overall, perhaps because so much of the movie is kept relatively grounded and low-key, the plotting generally (with a few exceptions) progresses more logically than it does in most Bond films. (Everyone: for some excellent commentary on story structure points like this, go and read Andrew Ellard’s Tweetnotes on the movie. It is indeed the “knifiest Bond ever”!)

The sequence with Bond sneaking around Krest’s operation is a good one; the “maggot coffin” is a fun baddie takedown, and the scene has a satisfying conclusion thanks to how Bond kills Felix’s betrayer. (The way Sanchez dies at the end of the movie – hey, it’s a Bond film, it’s not a spoiler to say that! – is also one of the most satisfying in the entire series.)

The film contains two very good action sequences, the harpoon-plane-waterskiing (featuring gunfire to that da-dada-da-da Bond theme rhythm!) and the concluding tanker chase. They easily make up for the crap bar brawl (noteworthy only for the swordfish bit) and ninja attack. (Ninjas… who are Hong Kong narcotics agents? Mixing up your nations of the Orient a little bit there, aren’t you, writers?) The section inside Sanchez’ smuggling base ranks somewhere in between: the conveyer belt fight against Benicio del Toro is nice and tense, but the setting seems even more Made Of Explodium than the hotel in Quantum of Solace.

As it’s a revenge story, it’s understandable that Timothy Dalton’s performance would be more downbeat than it was in The Living Daylights. But, combined with a general lack of memorable dialogue for him, it does mean that I find him much less fun to watch in this movie than in his first one, which may be a big part of the reason why I like it a lot less. The two Bond girls are also far from the greatest of characters or performances.

(A ridiculously minor nit-picky point, which doesn’t really belong in a review but I want to moan about it anyway: one of the baddies kills Bond’s DEA ally and says, “Guess what? His name was Sharkey!” The emphasis in that sentence has always felt like it’s on the wrong word, as if he’s simply confirming that his name was what he already thought it would be, rather than drawing attention to the irony of his cause of death. For similar reasons, I get disproportionately annoyed with a likewise mis-delivered line in The Matrix: “The image translators work for the Construct program…”)

[003 out of 005]

Cloud Atlas (2012)

Monday 11th March 2013 Leave a comment

The Fountain.
Magnolia.
Adaptation.
Synecdoche, New York.
A Cock and Bull Story.
The Hours.
Memento.

Look, I admit it – I’m a sucker for cinematic experiments in metafiction and form. Such movies tend to attract critics’ comments like, “All this self-referentiality, not-too-subtle thematic interlinking, and chronological jumbling are mere gimmicks; once you’ve solved the superficial puzzle-box, there’s little of substance to them. They’re not really as profound or interesting as they think they are – they exist only as exercises for writers and directors to smugly say, ‘Look how clever I am!'”

But for me, that clever-clever self-referentiality, not-too-subtle thematic interlinking, chronological jumbling, and puzzle-solving is exactly what wins me over. (Usually.) And it certainly worked in the case of Cloud Atlas!

I have not read David “Not The One From Peep Show” Mitchell’s novel Cloud Atlas, but before going to see the film, The Fountain was the reference point I had in mind. And sure enough, of the above examples, The Fountain is the film that it most resembles, in its cross-cutting between vastly different time periods in order to emphasise symbolic links between events and characters.

I enjoyed the film very much. The 2144 segment was always going to have the most immediate appeal for someone primarily interested in this film because of the Wachowskis’ involvement, and it’s a relief to see that they have lost none of their flair for action direction. (If, indeed, it was the siblings and not Tykwer who directed that segment’s action scenes: the end credits suggest that they did, but interview comments1 suggest that the credits give a misleading impression of how distinctly the film’s directorial responsibilities were divided.) However, all the stories had something to recommend them (the humour of the 2012 segment; the conspiracy of the ’70s thriller; the interaction between Ben Whishaw and Jim Broadbent’s characters in the 1930s), so that I was rarely disappointed when the film interrupted a story I was enjoying to switch to another one. The abruptness of the transitions between the different stories’ tones and genres was also something that appealed to me rather than a disorientating irritation. Overall I found it a very well-paced movie, flowing along about as well as any non-linear three hour movie ever could. (Although I could have done with a few less solemn, pseudo-profound statements about interconnectedness in the voiceovers.)

Many people have complained of being distracted by the make-up, and Tom Hanks’ attempts at certain accents – it’s true that I was distracted by those things too, but with only a couple of exceptions, keeping an eye out for the different roles each actor took on was an enjoyable distraction.

Hugo Weaving has said in interviews that roles in mainstream blockbusters no longer really appeal to him as an actor. If that means he won’t be doing any more of them, then at least we have Cloud Atlas to represent the ultimate culmination of all his villain-portraying! (Although: yeah, he does resemble the Hitcher from The Mighty Boosh at one point…)

[4 out of 5]

1 See Lana Wachowski’s comment in this AV Club interview:

We keep trying to explain to people that, first of all, the credit you see in the movie was this kooky thing invented by the Director’s Guild, because they couldn’t understand how three people could direct a movie together. And they have this convention that the only way directors can be multiply credited on a film is if it’s an anthology, so they invented this bizarre credit to allow their rules to make sense for our film.

Iron Man (2008)

Monday 24th December 2012 Leave a comment

This film happened to start on TV shortly after I’d finished rewatching The Iron Giant, and it amused me to make a double-bill of two such similarly-titled films. 🙂

The key to the movie’s success is, of course, the casting of Robert Downey Jr. He delivers offhand jokes, almost to himself, in ways that make it feel like he’s improvising while everyone else is sticking to a screenplay,* and it’s simply a lot of fun watching him on-screen – especially in scenes alongside Paltrow’s Pepper Potts. Terrence Howard makes a much better Col. Rhodes than Don Cheadle did in the sequel; it’s much more believable that he’d be Tony Stark’s friend.

As Tony Stark’s buddy Film Crit Hulk once pointed out, it’s nice that here’s a summer blockbuster in which the action is the least interesting part. In that blog post, the all-caps critic also says, “EVERYONE SEEMED LOVE THAT IT SPENT SO LONG BEFORE TONY ACTUALLY BECOME ‘IRON MAN’ SO THEY GET EXPERIENCE ALL THE GREAT CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT TO GET THERE. EVERYONE LAUDED THE FUN SENSE OF ADVENTURE THAT CAME FROM HIM ACTUALLY BUILDING THE SUIT”, and I completely agree: the section where Tony gets back to the US and carries out his first experiments with building the suit is perhaps my favourite sequence in the movie. (Yeah, OK, I admit that a lot of it has to do with the way it appeals to the gadget-nerd techno-fetishist in me.) All good superhero origin movies should contain a scene where our hero first experiences the joy of what their superpowers allow them to do (see for example Superman running alongside that Smallville train, or even Neo grinning as he spars with Morpheus), and the test flight of the Iron Man Mk. II suit is one of the very best.

Something I find interesting is the way that the film both has its cake and eats it: it’s based around the idea of a warmonger coming over to the side of the peaceniks, and yet also contains gleeful scenes of t’rr’rist-slaughter which are pure right-wing hawk revenge-fantasy. (I admit I do find some of the film’s depictions of the Bad Brown People fairly uncomfortable at times.)

I do wonder if the little bit of non-linearity that opens the film was only included because of a belief that the audience would grow restless unless the movie opened with a bang. Whatever the reason: I’ve always found that little piece of “how we got here” flashbacking very effective. The high-altitude icing problem setup and payoff also works similarly well (it’s to the film’s benefit that it’s not the final thing that defeats the villain), even if it’s not exactly subtle.

I’ve never read it, but the most famous Iron Man comics storyline is Demon In A Bottle, which tackles Stark’s alcoholism. The Marvel Studios movies haven’t adapted this on-screen yet, and it doesn’t sound like they will do any time soon. This makes a nice change from the way Fox approached X-Men 3 and Sony approached Spider-Man 3: rushing to hit the most famous comics storylines and characters as soon as possible, then getting greedy and cramming too many of them into one movie. Having said that, we do get several sequel-setups: Rhodey’s “Next time, baby” line is a little too cheesy for me, the Ten Rings hints are OK, and as for that post-credits epilogue… I can’t remember if it had been spoiled for me in advance of seeing the movie back in 2008, but I remember thinking that although it was a fun tease, it was something that would almost certainly never come to pass. It’s really quite wonderful to think that the thing set up in that cameo not only happened at all, but actually matched my very high expectations!

[4 out of 5]

* OK, admittedly Downey mumbles a lot of the best lines so you could easily miss them. But its nowhere near as bad as his mumbling in the Guy Ritchie version of Sherlock Holmes – inaudible dialogue from the lead character is pretty much all I remember of that movie…

Skyfall (2012)

Monday 5th November 2012 2 comments

Obviously Skyfall was never going to surpass From Russia With Love as my favourite of the series (what could?), but I was hopeful that it could rank alongside my other favourites: GoldenEye, Casino Royale, and OHMSS. Judging by this first viewing, I’d say it does – which means that The Living Daylights is finally edged out of my top 5. (Sorry, Timmy!)

Spoilers below.

Read more…

Moonraker (1979)

Monday 10th September 2012 Leave a comment

(Rewatched 11 August 2012)

Sometimes I wish Roger Moore would come back
With an underwater car or some kind of jetpack
Or a hover-gondola and a Union Jack

Joe Cornish, “The Something of Boris” (an Adam and Joe’s Song Wars entry)

As Cinebro’s review illustrates, “silly” is the operative word when you’re talking about this film. But there’s nothing wrong with silliness; silliness can be very funny, if it’s done well. So although I remembered Moonraker as being by far the worst Bond movie, this time, I went into it hoping to be able to judge it more generously – approaching it with some optimism that it would succeed as a daft spy comedy rather than fail as a spy adventure.

Unfortunately, I think very little of the comedy in this is done well. Forget comparing it to The Naked Gun – this isn’t even Spy Hard.

I’ll start with some positives. The cable car action sequence is good (even if at first, the camera positions in the wheel house set confusingly make it look like Jaws is following Bond and Goodhead down from the top, rather than coming up from the bottom on the opposite car). And I like the look of Drax’s construction facility as Bond flies over it at the start of the film. In fact, Ken Adam’s sets are consistently one of the best things about this film – although I may just be saying that because twenty years later they inspired the brilliant Aztec mission in the GoldenEye videogame!

The movie’s pre-title sequence is based around a fantastic parachute stunt sequence – which, unfortunately, is undermined when it concludes with a wacky bit involving a circus big top, and a bizarre transition into the film’s opening credits (falling umbrellas WTF!). Jaws’ appearance in this opening also undermines the later scene in which he’s introduced by walking through a metal detector, which is genuinely fun (an example of the film succeeding in the tone it aims for), and would have made a much better introductory scene for the character. Speaking of Jaws, I have to admit I’m quite fond of the two moments in the film where Bond and Jaws meet and acknowledge each other with a smile before they begin fighting.

What surprised me on this viewing is just how little talking there is over the course of the film. There are large sections of the movie that play out in silence. Surely this must be the Bond film with the fewest lines of dialogue? What dialogue is there gives us some of the comedy that does work, in a few brief but memorable lines:

– “His name is Jaws, he kills people.”
– “Look after Mr Bond. See that some harm comes to him.”
– “Mr Bond, you persist in defying my efforts to provide an amusing death for you.”
– “At least I shall have the pleasure of putting you out of my misery.”
– “You missed.” “Did I?”

Note that most of the above examples are spoken by the film’s villain, Hugo Drax – but apart from a few lines like those, he’s played very flatly as Bond-villain-by-the-numbers, and isn’t very memorable.

I remember the Moonraker novel being one of my favourites of Fleming’s books, but the film bears almost no resemblance to the book (unless you count the Minister of Defence’s very brief reference to playing Drax at bridge). Bond’s following of clues throughout the film is not at all interesting and not particularly logical, and Drax’s initial attempts to kill 007 seem to be motivated not out of any concern that Bond might discover his plans, but simply because he’s a Bond villain and trying to kill Bond is what Bond villains are required to do. That centrifuge sequence is OK, but comes across rather like a repeat of the rack exercise scene from Thunderball.

I’ve always enjoyed the posts on each of the Bond movies on the “I Expect You to Die!” blog, and that site’s writeup of Moonraker lays out the movie’s flaws particularly well. I like its summary of the similarities between Moonraker and its predecessor The Spy Who Loved Me:

TSWLM: Teaser involves ship being mysteriously stolen, the girl Bond is macking with tries to have him killed, and the teaser climaxes with a Bond parachute stunt.
MR: Teaser starts with a ship being mysteriously stolen, the girl Bond is macking with tries to have him killed, and the teaser climaxes with a Bond parachute jump.

TSWLM: The plot involves an insane billionaire who believes humanity has become corrupt; he wants to eliminate all humans and start over from his undersea base.
MR: The plot involves an insane billionaire who believes humanity has become corrupt; he wants to eliminate all humans and start over from his satellite base.

TSWLM: The main henchmen is a mute giant named Jaws.
MR: The main henchmen is a mute giant named Jaws (with added bonus: a mostly mute Japanese henchmen!!)

TSWLM: The Bond girl is a Russian spy!
MR: The Bond girl is an American spy!

TSWLM: A special Bond vehicle comes out of the water onto dry land, as tourists and animals do double takes.
MR: A special Bond vehicle comes out of the water onto dry land, as tourists and animals do double takes. Except in this one, we get lots more double-takes and reaction shots. Lots more.

Add another example: The Spy Who Loved Me contained a musical clip from Lawrence of Arabia; this one quotes the notes from Close Encounters of the Third Kind (heard THREE TIMES, just in case you didn’t notice!) and also contains the theme from The Magnificent Seven. Not to mention the Romantic Meadow Run that Jaws and his girlfriend get to do…

Oh, didn’t I mention? Jaws gets a girlfriend in this movie. Also, Bond wrestles a terribly fake-looking python (but it’s played straight, as if it’s meant to be genuinely threatening), and pigeons do double-takes, and the movie’s climax takes place IN SPAAAAACE.

“Bond goes into space” is usually cited as the biggest, most memorable thing that went wrong with Moonraker. But strangely, in principle I don’t have a problem with the idea of Bond (at least Roger Moore’s Bond) in space. Just as The Matrix Reloaded has more fundamental problems than the fact it concludes with that speech by the Architect, just as The Phantom Menace has more fundamental problems than the presence of Jar Jar Binks, I’m less annoyed by Moonraker‘s overblown space station climax than with most of the other problems earlier on in the movie. I wouldn’t have been bothered by a comic relief CGI Star Wars character if it had actually been amusing; similarly, I would have no objection to a wacky, campy, over the top, tongue-in-cheek Roger Moore Bond movie if only it had been funnier. 😦

[002 out of 005]

Drunken Master II/Legend of Drunken Master (1994)

Monday 20th August 2012 Leave a comment

For years I’ve heard a lot about how Drunken Master II (aka Legend of Drunken Master) is consistently recommended as one of Jackie Chan’s best films. More specifically, one or two of its action sequences consistently get called among the best that he or anyone else ever filmed – Roger Ebert, no less, said of the film’s climax: “This extended virtuoso effort sets some kind of benchmark: it may not be possible to film a better fight scene.”

Unfortunately, the film has always been pretty hard to come by in the UK – at least to someone who doesn’t pirate movies! I’ve never seen it on TV (even though there was a period between the releases of Shanghai Noon and Knights when things like Who Am I?, Rumble in the Bronx and Police Story were broadcast quite often on terrestrial TV channels), and I’m not even sure if it ever got a UK DVD release prior to the current Blu-Ray release (which only came out in April 2012, according to the online shops I checked).

Still, over the years I’ve resisted the urge to watch YouTubed versions of the fight scenes in the hope that one day I’d be able to watch the whole film properly from start to finish.

So I was delighted to see that LoveFilm had put a streaming version online (under the title of Legend of A Drunken Master and with its predecessor’s DVD blurb, for some reason). But before watching it, I went and rewatched the first Drunken Master. In that review, I described how the movie’s main appeal was its off-balance drunken boxing, which was utterly spectacular to watch:

The effect of wine on characters who have mastered the secrets of the Eight Drunken Gods is rather like the effect that spinach has on Popeye the Sailor. It’s incredible to watch the characters staggering around, constantly looking like they’re teetering on the edge of falling over, but actually in complete control of their balance. Their off-kilter motions give an absolutely unique look to the fight scenes, making them fascinating to watch – so it’s a shame that the titular fighting style is introduced pretty late in the movie, only after we’ve seen several fairly standard kung fu fights.

DM2 has much less in common with DM1 than I thought it would. Again Jackie Chan plays Wong Fei-hung, who again displeases his father (again a martial arts school owner), again some of the fight scenes involve drunken boxing, and again the final bad guy is a kicking specialist – but that’s pretty much where the similarities end. It has a very different feel to the original, due to the urban rather than rural setting (with more crowded scenes, and settings like trains and factories), the lack of training sequences, the fact Wong Fei-hung is older and less of a rebellious joker, the much heavier emphasis on props and weapons in the combat, and the more modern shooting style (none of those DRAMATIC CRASH ZOOM STINGS here!)

However, one thing that did carry across to the sequel was my disappointment at how late in the film the drunken boxing is first introduced. According to the film’s IMDb trivia page (ah, those benchmarks of reliability!), Jackie Chan wanted Drunken Master II to emphasise inebriated combat (like I did!), but the film’s director Chia-Liang Liu wanted it to have a heavier focus on normal kung fu styles. Hence there are only a few fight scenes when the drunken boxing is fully on display. Early on in the film, Jackie announces he’s about to use that fighting style, but it’s not really obvious in the short ensuing fight.

So it’s only midway through the film that we properly get to watch the off-balance intoxicated antics we all came to see, in an outstanding fight against several opponents. It’s probably the funniest of the film’s fight scenes, and it also includes the funniest “alchohol as Popeye’s spinach” moment: “What does it mean when there’s a picture of a skull?”…”GOOD STUFF!”

That’s not to say that the sober fights in the film are poor, though! The opening fight is set underneath a train, which makes for an interesting setting for combat. Late in the film we see Jackie and his ally defend themselves against an onslaught of axe-wielding attackers; Jackie’s weapon is a shaft of bamboo, which gradually deteriorates as the fight goes on, until eventually it looks and handles more like a cat o’ nine tails. In some places, the use of props is almost up there with the stepladder fight from Jackie Chan’s First Strike. It goes without saying that they’re all very well choreographed and directed – if some action didn’t register properly, it’s not due to problems with editing, composition or camera motion, but simply because of the amazing speed at which the actors performed the action.

And then we come to that famous final duel. Roger Ebert’s “it may not be possible to film a better fight scene” assertion was extremely bold, but the sequence comes impressively close to living up to it! Jackie Chan’s most spectacular stunts are the ones involving ridiculous heights – there aren’t any of those in this movie, but in this fight he gets to have his clothes set alight, dodge falling weights that slam into the ground, and scurry across burning coals. In the film City Hunter Jackie Chan got to play Chun Li from Street Fighter (it’s true!), but at one point in this DM2 fight he gets to do E. Honda’s flying headbutt move! But again, it’s the teetering-on-the-edge feel of the drunken boxing that really makes it brilliant.



As for other aspects of the film…

I doubt there are many people who watch Jackie Chan movies for the bits in between the fight scenes, but in this one, they really do feel like quite tedious padding. Most of the non-physical comedy in DM2 fell flat for me – although some works, and fortunately the humour always stays relatively high-brow(!) compared to the broadest moments from the first film! 😉

It should go without saying that there’s not much to the storyline, although hilariously, Wikipedia contributors have somehow managed to stretch its plot synopsis out to 1600 words. One interesting thing about the story is that it’s very clearly set during the period of British colonialism in Hong Kong, and prefigures Rush Hour in depicting the theft of Chinese artefacts by a corrupt English ambassador. Everyone knows that we Brits make the best movie villains, and here we’re represented by a cigar-chomping Consul who looks a bit like Charles Dance in Last Action Hero (now there’s a good baddie comparison for a movie to have, but unfortunately the comparison only extends as far as his looks, and the guy is not a fighter and therefore doesn’t get much screen time). I’m not asking for the film to turn into an in-depth examination of Hong Kong under British rule, but I would have liked the film to make more of the colonial aspects of its setting, and the potentially-interesting plot about the smuggling of a country’s national treasures; but instead, time is spent on subplots like the money problems of Wong Fei-hung’s family.

What plot is there isn’t conveyed very clearly (in particular the switcheroo between the ginseng and the valuable artifact) – perhaps that was just an issue with the dubbed version I watched, and I might have preferred a subtitle track using a literal translation? (Speaking of dubbing: while watching the credits, one voice actor’s name stood out. Is that the Bryan Cranston, and I wonder which character he dubbed…?)

So, is this the best Jackie Chan film?

Maybe, but there are a few I’d have to rewatch and lots I’d have to watch for the first time in order to say for sure. The fights scenes in Drunken Master II are unquestionably better than those of things like Who Am I?, Police Story and Shanghai Noon, but as I recall, those films felt more complete and well-rounded as a whole due to the bits between the stunts and fights standing up better.

But you don’t really care about those bits. You come for the fight scenes – in particular the drunken fight scenes. And boy, the drunken fight scenes are incredible.

4 out of – Hic! – 5

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