Drunken Master 3
Hong Kong 1994
Directed by Lau Ka-Leung.


Lau Ka-Leung didn't much care for the results of Jackie Chan's Drunken Master 2, so he whipped up his own version of the Wong Fei-Hong story to have the last word.

Third in the Drunken Master series of films, which by no stretch of the imagine can be said really to have anything to do with one another. Sure, Jackie Chan was in the first and second one, Andy Lau in the second and third one. And they all have something to do with drunken boxing, and Wong Fei-Hung. But beyond that, the similarities end. In other words, you don't have to watch Drunken Master and Drunken Master 2 to understand Drunken Master 3. And even if you did, it wouldn't help.

Story after story has been written about the folk hero Wong Fei-Hung. This time around, his father Wong Kei-Ying helps an injured girl named Sum Yu (Michelle Reis), who turns out is a princess going to marry the dictator Yuan Shih-kai, if she can get away from Sun Yat-Sen's republican loyalists, who want to keep her away from him to prevent him from proclaiming a new imperial dynasty. Yuan Shih-kai, meanwhile, sends Governor Li (Gordon Liu) to find her, and the jade ring which he gave her as a present, at all costs, after he is told that without the ring, his rule will end in 100 days.

When the young Wong Fei-Hong (Willie Chi) arrives home, his father immediately enlists him to take the princess to the French Concession to meet with a revolutionary (Andy Lau) in the service of Sun Yat-Sen. After a wild fight on a minibus, they stay for a few days at the home of a wine merchant (Lau Ka-Leung), who teaches Wong the art of drunken boxing. Governor Li finally tracks them down and takes Sum Yu to Yuan Shih-kai, which leads to the climactic fight filled finale, in which Wong Fei-Hong, his father, and the revolutionary must fight the Governor, his troops, and the White Lotus Cult.

The story takes place in 1915. The villain, Yuan Shih-kai, was the first appointed president of the new Republic of China. The man who drove the revolution bringing China into the modern age, and the end of the Qing dynasty, Sun Yat-sen was provisional president for only the first month of the Republic. After that, he resigned, and Yuan assumed the office in 1912. Basically because he had the biggest army. In the meantime, Sun Yat-sen drew up extensive plans to make China a democracy. The first elections were in 1913. But just a year later, Yuan dissolved the legally elected parliment, and had a new constitution written giving himself unlimited power. By 1915, Yuan started hinting that he wanted to be emperor, and later that year a unanimous vote by a specially gathered "Republican Assembly" asked him to assume the title. His imperial rule began January 1, 1916, and the whole of China revolted, each province declaring itself independant. It was a complete disaster, and by June 6 Yuan was dead. Such a short time, but he did manage to really screw up efforts toward democracy by China. So when, in the opening scenes of Drunken Master 3, Yuan Shikai meets with the leader of the White Lotus Cult, who tells him he must recover his jade ring or his reign will last only 100 days, we know from the outset he will not recover it.

There is some trouble with the timeline in the film. Wong Fei-Hung is simply way too young. In 1915, he should be more around Kwan Tak-Hing's age in his later Wong Fei-Hung films like Dreadnaught. But since when do stories of folk heroes have to be historically accurate? Never, I tell you. I do have to wonder, though, where the director got the idea for a steam-powered minibus, which takes our heroes to Canton.

It is on the bus that Wong Fei-Hong meets one of his most entertaining opponents, a well dressed gay dandy (Simon Yam) who seems to be with the enemy. Their fight is quite lengthy, and during it, Wong Fei-Hong meets up with the wine merchant, who helps him defeat the dandy by illustrating the art of "Fairy Ho's kung fu style." Gay kung fu. But the wine merchant can't defeat the dandy. Why not? "I'm not as bewitching as him." Considering the dandy is ultra-suave model Simon Yam, most women would have to agree.

Although there are many villains in the film, the most menacing, dangerous ones, seem to be the White Lotus Sect. In the opening scene we see that they are setting up residence in an abandoned church. The head of the White Lotus Cult is a foreigner. To all external appearances then, they could pass for a Christian group. Before long, though, they are not hiding their affiliation, and even parade in the streets announcing their return.

The White Lotus Sect is an apocalyptic and messianistic offshoot of Pure Land Buddhism which called for the end of the world and rebirth into the Pure Land, and has been a thorn in the side of the ruling dynasties in China for a long, long time. It was first banned as long ago as 1322. But it never died out, eventually causing a major rebellion in 1786-1804, which Qing forces were only able to keep down through employing a massive army and wholesale slaughter of the Sectarians and their families. The Sect survived, however, later taking part in the Boxer Rebellion of 1900.

It is partially because of the existence of the White Lotus Sect that Christianity was often persecuted zealously in China. Many officials could discern no major differences between the two. And when the Kangxi emperor outlawed Christianity in 1724 as a result of the Rites Controversy, it was lumped into the category of "perverse sects and sinister doctrines," right along side the White Lotus Sect. After this time, persecutions of White Lotus Sectarians would also sometimes envelop Christians living in the same community.

The White Lotus Sect venerated a goddess called the "Eternal and Venerable Mother." Sometimes, a picture of the Virgin Mary on the wall of a church or home would be mistaken for her and imprisonment and forced confessions would sometimes be the result. White Lotus Sect practiced vegetarianism, which most Chinese thought an abomination. Regular Buddhists, even the monks, had no such dietary restrictions. Catholics, however, sometimes did practice fasting, during Lent or other such times in the year, and again such behavior led to suspicion.

In Drunken Master 3 we see the ultimate confusion of the two religions. The White Lotus Society, in a Church, with a foreign priest at its head, performing mass on Halloween, but to a statue of Buddha, not Christ. Women play a prominent role in the Cult here, as they did historically, and as they did in Christian settings, too. In fact, the White Lotus Sect and Christianity were two of the only places where Chinese women could have a public role, an identity, a purpose, instead of always being hidden away behind closed doors and screens.

Although the White Lotus Sect is the enemy here, I have to wonder why they and Wong Fei-Hung aren't getting along like gangbusters. Wong Fei-Hung is fighting for the republic, against the imperial dynasty system. So does the White Lotus Sect (usually, though not in this movie). Wong uses his abacus as a weapon, the traditional Chinese calculator a symbol of his Chinese roots and his defence of tradition. He is harassed by foreigners for the whole movie, and finally gets to take it out on the foreign priest. The White Lotus Sect also advocates expelling foreigners (usually, though not in this movie). Maybe if they just sat down together and talked things out. Luckily, they never do, and instead they fight and fight and fight. The action sequences are really the best thing about the film. Andy Lau and Gordon Liu's several fights are the standout scenes. In fact, all of the supporting characters are more interesting and fun to watch than Willie Chi, our Wong Fei-Hung in residence. He has such a lack of charismatic presence, I forget he is on the screen, I forget he is the star. Fun performances by Andy Lau, Simon Yam, and director Lau Ka-Leung himself make this film worthwhile, though, as long as you aren't expecting anything brilliant.

Rating: Recommended (Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on April 20, 2004.


Comments

3Stars!!! are you mad this is not only 100% the worst drunken master film!! it is possibly the worst mistake you could make in your WHOLE life!!

this film is so rubbish im sorry i respect Lau Ka-Leung however i have no idea how much industrial alcohol HE must have drunk to make such a rubbish film!

i advise all true kung fu fans to watch this film WHY you ask to prevent any abomination from this ever being made again!!!! remember what you see and make sure you never let this happen ever again!!!

jokes aside this film is a very very bad film kung fu? what kung fu?

Posted by: NAV at February 16, 2006 03:46 PM