Thursday, May 16, 2013

Drunken Master 2 (1994) and how a few minor snips make a major difference

This piece was written back in December or January when Mr C and I were planning our Chinese New Year sequence of films. Now that Jackie Chan is coming to New York and this is going to play not only during one of  his appearances but during the retrospective, it makes clear why you'll want to see this in it's unedited glory in the series, and why you'll want to see all the films in the series where you can see them as they were intended  to be seen. 

Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master 2 is a case how a small snip and a change of audio track can radically alter a film.

I had loved this film ever since I saw back on import laser disc in the 1990’s. The film was supposed to be Chan’s martial arts swan song, but like several other films, the master just won’t stop.

The film follows Chan’s Wong Fei Hung as he takes on bad guys who who are dealing in stolen goods. In the film Chan’s a super martial artist, so long as he’s drunk off his ass. Chan ended up battling the director and taking over direction, which resulted in some of his best fight scenes. The film ends with a killer fight in a foundry where Chan is forced to drink industrial alcohol to fight. The film ends, in its original form, with a very un-politically correct gag as Chan is blinded and rendered moronic as a result of what he drank.

In watching the American version of the film I was horrified by how the film plays. It all seems wrong and the end punch line is cut out. Watching the film on cable I was sure the film had been cut up (after all Miramax/The Weinstein organization are notorious for chopping up and altering Asian films they pick up). The film looked and felt radically different than what I was used to from the laser disc.

In doing research for this piece I was shocked to learn that there are only two differences totaling less than three minutes between the full Hong Kong version and the American , first is the removal of the blind idiocy. The second is a redubbing of the film to “soften the violence”. I think that the redub does more than soften the violence it alters the whole feel of the film.

Seeing that there was no great difference I suddenly had doubts, and when I met with Hubert Villiga before a Leonard Cohen concert I mentioned that I was working on a piece about alter Jackie Chan films and he asked if I was going to mention Drunken Master 2. I said I planned to but I had found out that there are only two differences, the redub and the end snip. He asked me if I was still going to use it, because the two versions seem different. I said I wasn’t sure.

Not long after that, as I was debating what to do with the piece I mentioned what I was doing to friends at the day job who are big Jackie Chan fans, and they said I should talk about the butchering of Drunken Master 2 since it was clear to them that the two versions were radically different.

Apparently despite being essentially exactly the same, the American version plays so differently that some people, myself included, think there are radical changes.

To that end I suggest you track down a copy of the original version of the film either on line or in your local Chinatown and watch that instead since my unscientific survey indicates it’s a much better film.

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