Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Shaolin Drunk Monkey (1985)

Godfrey Ho's wikipedia entry mentions that he has directed over 90 films, and approximately 40 have the word "ninja" in the title. The man loves ninjas. Or, more accurately, the world loved ninjas in the mid-1980s and Godfrey was happy to oblige with his cut and paste method of movie making. He would literally film bits and pieces of films and arrange them into separate (and often confusing) movies.

Of course before the ninja craze Godfrey's focus was on low budget kung fu films. Shaolin Drunk Monkey stars Elton Chong as Mo, a goofy chef who witnesses his shaolin temple destroyed by The Silver Eagle (Han Ying) who uses a reflective mirror on his chest to blind his opponents. Looking for his revenge, Mo finds a beggar (Mike Wong, obviously patterned after the Sam Seed character from Drunken Master) who trains him in kung-fu using various painful looking methods (including having Mo fill a water bucket by climbing on poles) before they (along with the beggar's daughter) confront Silver Eagle and finish him off.

Now. Take that plot and rearrange it randomly. Have characters die and then reappear. Have training sequences come after miraculous kung-fu transformations. Have reconciliations happen before the arguments that spawned them. Shaolin Drunk Monkey features neither monkey style kung-fu, nor drunken boxing, but what it does have is a completely nonsensical plot thanks to the director's patented cut and paste style.

It's actually quite a shame as the fights on display are worthy of a better film. Elton Chong makes for a charismatic lead, and shows a definite talent for acrobatics in his fight scenes. He may be a low-rent Jackie Chan, and his bumbling slapstick can get a bit tiring, but he delivers when he needs to. Unfortunately, the complete lack of narrative continuity (including some pitiful dubbing and confusing dialogue) masks any charm the film may have.

The film is presented in a full screen, dubbed transfer which contains plenty of film damage and grain. It also suffers from some hideous day for night shooting which makes the image muddy and sometimes incomprehensible. It's likely that at least the compositions would look better in the film's original ratio, but even a pristine print wouldn't be able to hide the consistent flaws throughout. Besides chapters, the DVD includes no special features.

The film's talent deserves better than this scatter-shot Frankenstein's monster of a film. Some decent choreography can't hide the glaring flaws that come from Godfrey Ho's style of making films.

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