Drunken Master

From "5 for the Day: Fight Scenes" by Matt Zoller Seitz (Slant, 2006-11-10), insightful commentary on Jackie Chan's out-of-the-box choreography in the film Drunken Master (1978):

... Yes, I know, it's difficult—maybe impossible—to single out one Jackie Chan fight scene as his best. But since Chan absolutely must be represented on this list, I'm picking the climactic showdown from the original Drunken Master because it marks the moment when Chan came into his own as a movie star, a fight choreographer, a clown and an icon; which is to say it's the moment when Jackie Chan became Jackie Chan. In this film by director and fight choreographer Yuen Wo Ping, Chan's character, a wastrel screwup, flees town to escape his the wrath of his father, the owner of a martial arts gym, and ends up studying with the title character, Sun Hua Chi (Yuen Siu Tien). Sun teaches Wong the building blocks of movie chopsocky—including Tiger, Crane and Monkey style—as well as a demanding, multifaceted fighting technique called "The Eight Drunken Immortals"—one of which, The Drunken Miss Ho, is rejected by Wong on the grounds that it's too sissified. Over time, Wong becomes a skilled fighter, but still gets his ass whipped by the nomadic assassin Thunderfoot (Hwang Jang-Lee). At the master's urging, Wong returns home to reconcile with his dad, who's been hurt in a fight with Thunderfoot, and challenges the assassin to a duel (what else can he do, sue him?).

In the ensuing fight, Wong, who can't seem to land a decent blow on his opponent, jettisons the remnants of his childish pride and improves upon his master's teaching, switching between the all the styles he's learned (particularly seven of the eight Drunken Gods) with such speed and inventiveness that Thunderfoot is surprised and overwhelmed. The turning point comes when he embraces the previously anathema eighth style, The Drunken Miss Ho, with pop-eyed gusto, cooing, mincing, skipping and flouncing while battering Thunderfoot with his fists, fingers, knuckles and feet. The scene's graceful mix of head-to-toe long shots and slingshot zooms showcases the most playful slapstick this side of a Buster Keaton two-reeler. These fighters don't just hover in the air on wires while bloodying each others' scowling faces; they grapple, flip, wriggle, scoot, crabwalk, dive and roll, and allow themselves a whopping double-take when the other guy executes a surprising but effective move. The scene is delightful not just for its dramatic potency, but its evolutionary significance within Chan's career. As the onetime student applies his master's teaching while discovering his own warrior identity, Chan perfects a screen persona that would carry him through the next three decades—a sweet, goofy, machismo-free alternative to the Spartan coolness of China's kung fu standard-bearer, Bruce Lee, who was physically Chan's equal, but would never would have agreed to a fight scene that involved batted eyelashes and teasing pelvic thrusts.

... it's all about letting-go — and saying "Yes, and..."

^z - 2018-11-16