Drunken Tai Chi笑太极(1984)
Today, we are going to talk about a 1984 movie named Drunken Tai Chi (笑太极xiào tàijí),which is Yen’s first starring role after his discovery by Yuen Wo-ping. It is perhaps the last traditional martial arts movie made in Hong Kong, both a period piece and a comedy. Yen plays Chin Do, an orphan taken in by a puppeteer/drunken Tai Chi master and his savvy wife after the deaths of his father and brother. Before their deaths, the father favors his younger son over the elder while the big brother willingly sacrifices for Chin Do. Actually, the son of a wealthy villager throws his weight around and challenges Chin Do; Chin Do and his brother turn the tables on him by setting off the firecrackers he’d intended to use against them. The poor sap goes crazy as a result, and his powerful father hires an assassin, Killer Bird, to take revenge. Meantime Chin Do befriends the child of the assassin, even foiling a kidnapping attempt. It’s only a matter of time before Chin Do discovers that his father and brother have been viciously murdered. He’s puzzled when he too is hunted down by the assassin. The drunken Tai Chi master and his wife refine Chin Do’s martial arts skills, and part of the narrative follows his exact training. Finally, Killer Bird makes his way to the cottage where Chin Do’s surrogate family resides, and the ultimate showdown occurs. In the end, Chin Do returns to care for the orphaned child of the assassin.
In addition to the spectacular action sequences, Yen demonstrated a comedic flair in several of the scenes, in particular an inventive pantomime sequence in which he performs as a human puppet, entertaining as well as insulting the wealthy villager and the audience gathered to celebrate his birthday with him. Yen’s flexibility and agility as a physical actor is evident, in his splits, breakdancing moves, moonwalking a la Michael Jackson, and high-flying leaps like Nureyev. Also apparent is his knowing wink to the audience (within and outside the film itself), despite his make-up, that he is in on the joke.
Furthermore, the instruction and training of Chin Do by his Tai Chi master is lovingly and humorously detailed, from pushing hands to tai chi boxing, from the principles of hard and soft, supporting birds on the wing in the hand, to martial arts basketball. The wife also gets into the act, teaching Chin Do through the right touch of beating fibers for quilt-making. Among the action sequences, early on Chin Do takes on an opponent in a game of skill, using the rarely seen rope dart to paint his opponent’s chest with an unhappy face; later he barely escapes from Killer Bird who sets a large wheel upon him across a bridge reminiscent of the opening boulder scene in the original Indiana Jones. Yen’s talent is also on screen in the scene in which the crazy son kills his father. Here Yen shows his prowess with the nine sectional whip against his antagonists. Finally, in the extensive climactic fight, Yen pulls out all the stops, using all the techniques he’s learned during the course of his instruction.
Director: Yuen Wo-ping (袁和平Yuán Hépíng)
Cast: Donnie Yen (甄子丹Zhēn Zǐdān), Yuen Cheung-yan, Yuen Hsin-yee, Yuen Yat-choh, Wong Tao, Yuen Sun-yi