26 August 2007 | winner55
not definitive Chan
This is a really mixed bag of a movie. To begin with, it is very episodic, and the transitions between the episodes are confusing - even allowing for re-editing in different re-release prints. The opening episode appears to have been an attempt at homage to the Shaw Bros. style (sets, lighting, camera angles), and one suspects that Sammo Hung had a hand in it, since he had demonstrated a grasp on the Shaw style in a couple of his own early films. But once the opening is done, so too the Shaw style effects, and we're suddenly in Lo Wei territory at the Buddhist temple. Later, Chan borrows from Yuen Woo Ping quite heavily - the final fight is somewhat reminiscent of "Drunken Master", and apparently intentionally so. (It is probable that Yuen himself was on hand for consultation.) Sadly, these wildly different episodes never gel together to present us with one whole narrative; the grand finale feels like an artificial tack-on, it doesn't seem to resolve anything.
There's quite a lot wrong here: There's no explanation of why Chan's character - still an adolescent student - suddenly transfigures himself into a 'kung fu genius' (to borrow a phrase from Chow's "Kung Fu Hustle"); the school, once left behind, is never seen nor heard from again until the final credits - any dramatic input it could make to the story is thereby lost. The fascinating (and brilliantly performed) episode with the Inspector and his family also gets left behind and unresolved. The use of bong-water from an opium pipe as an elixir granting increased strength is completely artificial and unbelievable - a college fraternity in-joke; the use of wine in "Drunken Master", by comparison, is derived from myth, and based on an real martial arts tradition.
The one definitive term for this approach to movie making is: self-indulgence. Chan, at the time a recognized star in Asia, who felt he could do no wrong, is simply coming up with what must have appeared as good ideas and patching them together to give himself a star-vehicle and showcase for all his talents - he even sings the title track.
All this noted, it must be admitted that, as an episodic showcase, the film is actually very entertaining. Once you allow that the story is really irrelevant to the comic bits and fight scenes, these can be enjoyed on their own terms - the fight scene with Chan dressed as a beggar is really quite remarkable, and the visit to the inspector's house is very funny.
one more note on the release prints: I have seen a standard English-dub print and a Chinese print with subtitles; the weird thing is that the English print actually includes brief but important moments cut from the Chinese print, and would actually be preferable except that it re-arranges one important comic moment in such a way that all the humor is lost, and seems also to compress the violence so has to reduce its impact. Hopefully we'll one day get the definitive print of this; until then, best to see both prints so you know what you'd miss if you only saw one.