It should come as no surprise that DRUNKEN MASTER’s massive international success led to a series of rip-offs, unofficial sequels and variants on the film’s plot. Golden Harvest explored the similar territory of precocious historical figures in MAGNIFICENT BUTCHER and THE PRODIGAL SON, while the Beggar So character (called Sam Seed in the US dub) was so popular that Yuen Siu-tien worked up until his death playing a similar – or the same – role in a number of similarly themed martial arts films. These films usually featured smaller budgets and less production value than the Golden Harvest films, and most – if not all – pale significantly next to the original DRUNKEN MASTER.
Perhaps the best of the unofficial DRUNKEN MASTER sequels was 1979’s DANCE OF THE DRUNKEN MANTIS, which despite being produced by Ng See-yuen’s Seasonal Films managed to poach both DRUNKEN MASTER’s director Yuen Woo-ping, as well as his father Yuen Siu-Tien. But that’s not the end of this family affair, as it also stars Woo-ping’s brother Yuen Shun Yee in the lead role as Foggy, and has a small part for another brother, Brandy Yuen, as an imposter Beggar So. With all of this talent both in front of and behind the camera, it’s perhaps no wonder that DANCE OF THE DRUNK MANTIS features a plethora of inventive martial arts scenes – particularly with both Yuen Woo-ping’s family and Corey Yuen (who plays Hwang Jang Lee’s disciple) helping out with choreography.
While there are few references to the events of the original DRUNKEN MASTER, it’s obvious that the Beggar So character in the film – based, of course, on So Chan, one of the Ten Tigers of Canton – is supposed to be the same one that trains Wong Fei-Hung in drunken boxing in the 1978 film. Therefore, despite the tricky legal territory, this could quite legitimately be referred to as DRUNKEN MASTER II – and indeed that’s a very common alternate title for the film, and shows up on a number of different posters. We even have Hwang Jang Lee – who played Thunderleg in that film – returning as the big baddie, cleverly nick-named Rubber Legs.
Rubber Legs (Hwang Jang Lee) is the master of Southern Style drunken fist, a particularly lethal variation of drunken boxing which includes elements of the praying mantis style. Having dominated the south, he travels north with his student (Cory Yuen) to Canton to track down Beggar So, the originator of the style. Arriving in the city, the pair almost immediately encounter a man they recognize as So, but it’s quickly revealed that it’s actually a So impersonator (Brandy Yuen). Rightfully pissed at this deceit, Rubber Legs has his student beat the heck out of the faker while the opening credits roll.
Part of the reason audiences flocked to the original DRUNKEN MASTER was to check out the titular martial arts style, and this film ups the ante almost immediately – not only with Rubber Leg’s drunken mantis hybrid, but also in the following scene where the dim waiter Foggy (Yuen Shun Yee), who is working as a waiter, has a physical confrontation with two unruly customers who show off their skills in Chicken Fist and Duck Fist. While Foggy is hardly a martial arts expert, he easily fights off the two jokers, before immediately being fired. Like Jackie Chan in DRUNKEN MASTER, Yuen Shun Yee is an obviously talented martial artist who never gets to show off his full range of skills until the climactic fight at the film’s climax. However, Foggy is a much more naive and silly character, though Shun Yee imbues him with a reasonable amount of likability.
With Beggar So being away from Canton for so long, his debts have begun to pile up, a situation made worse by two con-artists trying to steal from him. He recognizes the ruse, but good-natured Foggy, believing So to be at fault, stops him from getting his money back from the criminals. So responds by humiliating Foggy, trapping him in some wine containers before walking off. At the same time, Beggar So’s wife (Linda Lin, who played Fei-hung’s aunt in DRUNKEN MASTER) fights off a gangster trying to collect on the five dollars (plus interest!) that So has owed him for the last several years. When he arrives him, she’s very upset (“You shit and make me wipe your ass”) that he left her so suddenly, particularly as she’s received no money from him. After a quick spanking session, she calms down and So explains that he regularly was sending money back home through the local bank. Before he can address this, Foggy comes into the house and it’s revealed that he’s actually So’s and his wife’s adopted son. So takes an immediate dislike to the boy, but the pair decide to go to the bank and discover what happened to all of the sent money.
The bank owner, Moneybags (played by Dean Shek, a usual face in kung-fu films at this time) at first attempts to escort Beggar So and Foggy out of the bank, before So reveals that he has proof that his money was sent but not delivered. Taking them into his back office, Moneybags reveals his prized family door knockers which apparently represent the bank’s three conditions which assure that he’ll never have to refund money:
a) First, he will pay on no definitive date.
b) Second, he won’t pay within his lifetime
c) Third, he definitely won’t be paying in the near future.
He also reveals himself as a master of the Push kung-fu style, which he gladly demonstrates against Foggy – who quickly is overpowered – and Beggar So, who starts stripping the jewelry off of Moneybags to make up for the stolen money. It’s the regular Cantonese comedy you see in a lot of these martial arts films, but despite some fun fighting it gets tiresome quickly.
Later, we get a glimpse into Beggar So’s home-life as he continually taunts and berates Foggy, who desperately wants his adopted father to teach him kung-fu. So refuses, but his wife protests until he reluctantly agrees. However, the next morning instead of teaching his son he tries to head to a local restaurant, which leads into more lame comedy as the more-clever-than-he-looks Foggy manages to trail Beggar So until he finally agrees to teach him drunken fist.
But it’s all a ruse. Promising to teach Foggy the “spinning earth and sky method”, he actually just makes him point at the ground and spin until he gets incredibly dizzy (get it?). After So reveals over dinner that it will take him three years to train him (one for stance, one because he’s dumb, and an extra year because he’s stupid), Foggy has finally had enough. He leaves a note revealing that he’s left forever, and we get a montage of Beggar So just being a horrible asshole to him. It seems slightly out of character compares to his actions in DRUNKEN MASTER, but admittedly Foggy made a pretty terrible first impression.
Foggy gets a job at a local inn, but soon has a confrontation with a customer who refuses to leave – it’s Rubber Leg’s student, and Rubber Legs soon arrives to ask the innkeeper about the whereabouts of Beggar So. Discovering that he lives nearby, Rubber Legs asks the innkeeper for two rooms, and a coffin for Beggar So. Foggy overhears all this, and the next morning he confronts Rubber Leg’s student, and the two have a really fun – though abbreviated fight – with Cory Yuen briefly showing off some drunken boxing as he dominates the overmatched Foggy. Rubber Legs intervenes, correctly guessing that Foggy will lead them directly to Beggar So.
In the film’s best scene, Beggar So discovers Rubber Legs in his house and the two have a confrontation that slowly builds from mutual compliments to Rubber Legs intentionally testing the drunken master’s skills. They duel over a cup of wine, before it turns into an actual fight – with what appears to be a snippet from the soundtrack to SUSPIRIA playing in the background. The soundtrack was “composed” by Frankie Chan (from THE PRODIGAL SON), and it’s not uncommon to hear a few familiar songs pop up. This fight, as usual, features extensive doubling of Yuen Siu Tien but is very impressive, particularly when Hwang Jang Lee breaks out his trademark kicks. Once Rubber Legs shows off his drunken mantis style, Beggar So is quickly overwhelmed and has to be rescued by an intervening Foggy.
So ends up being unconscious for days, but after waking he sends Foggy to retrieve some medicine. In the process of returning, he encounters the odd sight of a man lying in a coffin – who eventually (after some odd misunderstandings) reveals himself as Sickness, So’s brother and – despite his pallid complexion and constant illness – a doctor. Apparently Beggar So isn’t the only member of his family with a unique kung-fu style, as Sickness reveals that the family practices “Books, Magic, Sickness and Wine”, with Wine – Beggar So’s style – being the most powerful.
Despite an earlier confrontation, Sickness agrees to train Foggy and we get (as always) a series of intricate training sequences – the most memorable of which involves Foggy trying to catch thrown bean curd in his hands. As time passes, Foggy learns to master the balance of power and speed, and soon he’s gleefully yanking hooks out of wooden posts. He’s a prodigy!
Returning home, Foggy witnesses a fully recovered Beggar So practicing Mantis Fist – and he’s back to his usual insulting ways. The two have a physical confrontation, with Beggar So extremely suspicious that Foggy’s skills have improved so massively. He secretly follows Foggy when he goes out, which eventually brings him to his brother’s house – where he’s soon joined by Rubber Legs who taunts him with the superiority of his Mantis style. While these two are having a stand-off, Rubber Leg’s student arrives at Beggar So’s house and attempts to intimidate his wife, who at first thinks he’s a debt collector (“I don’t collect debts, I collect lives”). She humiliates him in a short fight, before Foggy arrives home and easily overpowers the student with his new skills. The beaten student lets it slip that Rubber Legs is fighting Beggar So, and Foggy runs off to stop him.
When Foggy arrives, the fight between Beggar So and Rubber Legs has already began – with Sickness also appearing, though he refuses to get involved (“I only use my mouth, not my fist”). A confident Foggy intervenes, and reveals that Rubber Leg’s student has been beaten, before the final, climactic fight occurs. At first Foggy’s newly developed skills surprise Rubber Legs, but when the baddie switches to his Mantis style he soon begins to best the young student at every turn. Beggar So, at first impressed, gives up entirely on Foggy, while Sickness tells him to “go CRAZY”! This sends Foggy into a bizarre, unpredictable rage which completely confounds Rubber Legs, who is soon demolished – and has his adam’s apple crushed – by Foggy. The film ends with a still-confused Foggy hallucinating that Beggar So is actually Rubber Legs and chases after him. THE END.
DANCE OF THE DRUNK MANTIS is an entertaining and worthy follow-up to DRUNKEN MASTER with plenty of innovative kung-fu and a great, irascible performance from Yuen Siu Tien. Alas, his late life success was short-lived, as this proved to be his final performance before his death on January 8, 1979. At the time he was scheduled to revise his role as Beggar So once again in Sammo Hung’s legendary MAGNIFICENT BUTCHER, but after his death he was replaced by Fan Mei Sheng.
DRUNKEN MASTER wouldn’t receive an official sequel until 1994’s DRUNKEN MASTER II (known as LEGEND OF THE DRUNKEN MASTER in North America) which is generally considered one of the greatest kung-fu films ever made, despite a turbulent production history which saw original director Lau Kar-leung clashing frequently with star Jackie Chan. However, despite the thematic similarities – and having 40-year-old Jackie returning to the role of Wong Fei Hung – there is little that ties the storyline to the original film, and none of the characters – including Beggar So – return. In many ways, DANCE OF THE DRUNKEN MASTER is a much more direct sequel to the storyline of the first film.
Lau Kar-Leung would also go on to direct the disappointing DRUNKEN MASTER 3, which has little to do with either of the two earlier films, and features no returning cast members. Jackie would return to the drunken boxing style in 2008’s THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM, though not playing Wong Fei-hung, while Yuen Woo-ping would direct a sort-of prequel to the film with 2010’s TRUE LEGEND which features Vincent Zhao as Beggar So, and explains how he became the drunken character we’re familiar with from the first DRUNKEN MASTER.
NEXT TIME: CRIPPLED MASTERS (1979)
Long live the fist,
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