Review: Dance of the Drunk Mantis (1979)

Directed by:
Cast: , , , ,

Not available in Australia on DVD (to our knowledge)

I know, the villain’s called Rubber Legs, and we’re supposed to take him seriously. It’s not too bad a name for a character played by Hwang Jang Lee, actually — he was a famed kicker in many, many martial arts films. Here he plays a master of northern drunken fist who bears a grudge. Beggar So’s southern drunken fist style is famous, and Rubber Legs (who apparently languishes in comparative obscurity) wants to find him, fight him, kill him, and thus prove the superiority of his ‘drunken mantis’ style.

Beggar So (played by Simon Yuen, father of director Yuen Woo-ping) is happy to wander the world with his jug of wine, topping it up as often as possible. At the start of the film he returns home to find that his wife (Lin Yin) has adopted a boy named Foggy (played by another family member, Woo-ping’s brother Yuen Shin I). She tells him in no uncertain terms that he should train his new son in drunken fist, a task that So takes to very unwillingly. Meanwhile, Rubber Legs and his student are drawing nearer, looking for Beggar So.

We also have a minor part for Corey Yuen (who also does some of the fight choreography for this film) as Rubber Legs’ student, who takes on Foggy a number of times. Foggy’s abilities are bolstered when he meets one of Beggar So’s brothers, the Sickness Master (Yen Shi-kwan), who looks thoroughly ill and spends his time in a coffin.

This is an old-school comic kung fu film, with a great deal of slapstick and wordplay, several off-beat kung fu styles (Sickness Boxing?) and extra sound effects galore. We have Chicken and Duck Kung Fu, as well, with squawking. All of this makes the film feel very dated, given the tendency nowadays to either elaborate, serious wuxia films or violent, realistic martial arts films — it almost seems like the characters in this film are playing around, having fun with their wires and backflips.

It’s impressive, though. All the actors give amazingly athletic performances, and there’s some superb stuntwork and choreography in the film. Fans of Jackie Chan’s earlier comic films or martial arts fans who’d like to crack a smile instead of watching another Chang Cheh bloodbath might want to check it out.

(One note for DVD buyers: the Mei Ah disc I watched was pretty terrible, especially towards the end of the film; the video transfer is very ordinary, and there are occasional colour shifts and other artifacts. It’s quite possible that no better print exists, though.)

7 food-related training sequences out of 10.
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