aka Drunken Wu Tang, Miracle Fighters 3
DIRECTED BY: Yuen Cheung-Yan
FEATURING: Yuen Cheung-Yan, Yuen Yat-Chor, Yuen Shun-Yi
PLOT: A bucktoothed alcoholic beggar is ordered by his brother, a temple priest, to round up a group of virginal young men to defend against a powerful villain with supernatural abilities.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: The Chinese martial arts genre is rife with insanity, but even by those lofty standards, Taoism Drunkard is pretty zany. No character behaves with any respect to reality as we might know it, factors such as physics are disregarded at will, and the whole film is laced with an undercurrent of naughtiness. It’s consistently unexpected.
COMMENTS: Taoism Drunkard follows multiple traditions at once. It is, of course, a martial arts film. It also joins the ranks of films utilizing the techniques of drunken boxing, the fighting style that mimics the movements of an intoxicated person to make every contact seem surprising and impactful. In particular, it carries on the tradition of Yuen Clan, the filmed output of actor Yuen Siu-Tien (who played Jackie Chan’s sensei in Drunken Master) and six of his children, including the legendary martial arts choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping. And significantly, it’s the third and final entry in the Miracle Fighters series, which gave the Yuen brothers a chance to perfect their blend of fighting, magical elements, and twisted comedy. It’s a lot to live up to, which maybe is why Drunken Taoism is so strenuous in its wildness; it’s almost desperate to stand out amongst so much product, so much tradition.
Taoism Drunkard has only three of the brothers, but each play their appointed roles, like Chinese Marx Brothers (they even do the famous mirror routine). Cheung-Yan (wearing an absurd pair of buckteeth and pedaling around in his own rat car) is the perpetually inebriated screwup whose drinking fuels his fighting skill. Yat-Chor is practically the straight man as the immature but serious-minded love interest constantly struggling to impress his grandmother. (In drag, Cheung-Yan conveys considerably more dignity in that role.) And then there’s Shun-Yi, gloriously over-the-top as the malevolent Old Devil who exists only to fight and cackle maniacally. If you’ve seen any of their other films (particularly this one’s predecessor, Shaolin Drunkard), then you’ll feel right at home with these cartoonish characters.
It’s where they put them that makes the difference. On the one hand, the brothers engage in fight scenes with extraordinary combinations of action and imagination. Characters fly, spin through the air like a corkscrewing missile, run up walls, and hurl objects that seem to have minds of their own. (One of the few women not treated as a joke is so skilled at combat that she can use the sleeves of her gown as weapons.) The fight scenes are like glorious dance numbers, casting realism aside, joyful in their inventiveness.
The counterpart to this breathtaking stuntwork is the dumbest of dumb comedy. Everyone behaves with an indignity that Benny Hill would find embarrassing. Fat jokes, shrewish women jokes, drunk jokes, jokes about butts and groins and boobs, a joke with very lengthy setup about drinking urine, and one joke of the literal “g-g-g-ghost” variety. Consider a funeral in which the reanimated corpse interrupts both a graverobber’s attempt to steal his golden upper plate and his widow’s intended assignation with another mourner. Or a confrontation on the street that is suddenly accompanied by a snippet of Howard Jones’ “New Song”, which is the only thing that plants the film in its time. (The 1984 production date is nothing short of astonishing; the ancient-looking film stock and even creakier misogynist mindset seem a decade older at least.) As though made by 14-year-olds for 12-year-olds, it’s comedy of the most infantile strain, and staging it directly alongside the ridiculous-but-serious fight scenes creates a startling contrast.
Perhaps nothing captures the spirit of Taoism Drunkard better than the craziest thing in it. Yat-Chor’s wise grandmother has created a kind of automaton fighting machine to defend the plot’s MacGuffin, and seeing it in action is unforgettable. The original subtitled release calls it the Banana Monster (a reference to its preferred target, its opponent’s genitals), while the English dub refers to it as the Watermelon Monster (due to its appearance). Whatever you call it hardly matters in the face of what it does. This smooth-skinned, razor-toothed Q*bert speaks in a childish voice, jumps about the room like a rabid frog, deploys spring-loaded satellite dishes that can only be called breast detectors, and snaps hungrily until it finally rolls back into its box. It provokes laughter the moment you see it, and yet the Old Devil’s fear of it is entirely appropriate. It’s utterly absurd, yet believably dangerous. It’s the film in a nutshell — or possibly a watermelon rind.
There’s a reliable streak of weirdness in the martial arts genre, but Taoism Drunkard stands out through its willingness to go bigger, to be sillier and more gross, and to push the boundaries of what makes for a compelling showdown. It has done its legacy proud, and possibly done it one better.
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WriteUps – Banana monster aka Watermelon monster – This character page for the Banana Monster is useful for all your RPG needs.