One of Jackie Chan’s best Chinese films is being re-released in a dubbed version with a new score.
It is a sequel to the movie that made him an international star. Though it was made 15 years later than the first, it takes place immediately after the first, set in turn-of-the-century China. Wong Fei-Hong (Chan) is the son of a distinguished and wealthy doctor. As they board a crowded train following the purchase of herbs, Fei-Hong hides the container of ginseng in another man’s luggage, to avoid paying duty. Fei-Hong’s package is exchanged for one containing a valuable antique box. This leads to the discovery that many antiquities are being smuggled out of the country.
Fei-Hong is a specialist in “drunken boxing” (using liquor to “make the body looser and its pain threshhold higher”), and he uses his fighting skill to take on the bad guys.
The fight scenes are sensational. Chan is the most agile and acrobatic screen fighter ever. His split-second timing, imagination, utter fearlessness, and sense of humor produce mesmerizing action sequences. An early fight in a confined space beneath a train car is extraordinary, and the 20-minute final fight sequence is stunning. In this movie, even the housemaid and stepmother are kick-boxers, all the furniture seems made of balsa wood, and gangs of ax-wielding marauders can be vanquished by three or four heroes.
Fans of Chan’s American films may need to make some cultural adjustments to enjoy this movie. Although the new score and dubbed dialogue are attempts to make the movie more accessible to an American audience (one character even uses a Yiddishism to scoff at a plant: “Rootabega, shmootabega!”), some of the conventions and behavior may seem exaggerated and strange. The tone may also seem uneven, with slapstick one moment, a parent beating a child in the next, and a sad death later on. Parents may want to provide some political and cultural context to help kids understand the depiction of oppressed factory workers and the choice of the English ambassador and factory owner as the bad guy. (Interestingly, the Chinese actor portraying a bad guy is dubbed with an English accent as well!) The three stars are for those who care about what happens between fight scenes. For those who don’t care, it gets 4 1/2 stars.
Parents should know that the movie features non-stop fighting, mostly of the cartoon variety. One important character is killed, but most of the time the characters are unhurt or, if they are hurt, the wounds disappear before the next scene. There are are few uses of the s-word and other profanities. Some parents will be concerned about “drunken boxing,” in which liquor affects Fei-Hong the way spinach affects Popeye. As Fei-Hong’s father tells him, though, “A boat can float in water — and sink in it.” And when Fei-Hong overdoes the liquor, he is very sorry. Fei-Hong’s father beats him and disowns him, but later takes him back with love and pride. Fei-Hong has a warm relationship with his young and beautiful stepmother, but she is very manipulative, faking crying to get her way.
Part of the fun of a Jackie Chan movie, like a James Bond movie, is in seeing how he makes use of various props and gadgets. Kids should also note that he is as much a master of physics as of strategy in fighting. Watch how he makes use of his understanding of properties like weight, torque, and balance as he turns the enemies’ strengths against them. Watch, too, how he learns from his elders about going on from mistakes (“Tomorrow brings a whole new journey.”)
Fans of this movie will also enjoy Chan’s recent “Shanghai Noon.”