Sunday, November 13, 2011

Movie Review: The Little Drunken Masters

It's a movie staring kids.  I think I'll pass.
But it's a Chinese movie where all the kids do Kung Fu.  It might be mildly amusing, but...

The Gweilo's Movie Ratings for The Little Drunken Masters
The Chinese movie review continues below this info box!
Category Rating
WTF Meter 2.9 out of 5
MST3K-Ability 3.6 out of 5
OVERALL QUALITY 1.8 out of 5
Chinese Movie The Little Drunken Masters
Director Stanley Sui Wing
Actors Carman Lee, Willie Chi, Xiong Xin Xin
Year 1995
Format Viewed VCD Mei Ah VCD137 What is a VCD?

But it's a Chinese movie where the kids do all their own stunts, and the filmmaker has no qualms about dangling them from bridges, dropping them off tall ladders, throwing them against walls...  Oh really?
And the kids have to get really drunk to fight.  Color me intrigued!

"Give me liquor!"
How a 7-year-old starts the day right in Little Drunken Masters

There's a sub-genre of Chinese Kung Fu movie called "drunken kung fu".  The best example of this is Jackie Chan's 1978 masterpiece The Drunken Master, and I've reviewed Taoism Drunkard on this site as well.

There's another sub-genre of Chinese Kung Fu movie called "kid fu."  As you might imagine, this is a film in which the protagonist fighters are all children.

Truth be told, both of those sub-genres are pretty amusing from the Gweilo's perspective.  Drunken kung fu is a fighting style based entirely on teetering, falling down, staggering around, and all the other violent, erratic bursts of motion that you've seen your Uncle Steve do when he's had way to much to drink and is about to pass out.  Done well, it's a sublime form of physical comedy.  And Kid fu can be great too, because the world of a Hong Kong movie is miles away from the plucky, suburban, saccharine sweetness of a Disney PG film.  Kid fu child actors are just as cute as Hollywood kids, probably even cuter because they lack the Hollywood child star's pretentiousness and self-awareness.  But they also do their own stunts, and kick some serious ass.

The Plot

The premise of The Little Drunken Masters is that the Emperor is sick, and he needs the "Little Buddha" to get better.  The Little Buddha is apparently one of the children at a monastery consisting almost entirely of child monks.  This makes the children really valuable, so their monastary is attacked and their master killed.  The kids spend most of the movie on the run from various mercenaries, evil villains, and also two bumbling "guards" who are trying to capture them.

Their main comic relief enemies
Just how this "Little Buddha" child is supposed to cure the Emperor is something of a mystery.  One theory is that the Emperor just needs to look at the child to be healed.  But all the other theories involve the Emperor eating the child, or cooking it in a wicker basket, or cutting the child open and eating its brain, or eating its "Pearl of Essence" (what?!)  Weirdly enough, that makes The Little Drunken Masters yet another Hong Kong cannibalism movie.

I say "weirdly enough" because it's pretty clear that The Little Drunken Masters is intended to be a kids' movie, even though the cannibalism and some of the other stuff is really quite grim.  But Hong Kong is far from Hollywood, and director Stanley Sui Wing seemed to have no worries about traumatizing his target audience.

One of the ways you can tell this is intended to be a kids' movie is the preponderance of second-grade potty humor.  The child monks use farts as a weapon, pee on their captors, and invent weird, levitating toilets.  You're probably thinking:  Hell no.  I'm an adult.  There's no way I want to waste my time with second-grade potty humor in a kid's movie.  But what makes this amusing, from the Gweilo's perspective, is the fact that most of this potty humor gets mixed up in translation, and what emerges on your screen is just plain WTF weird.

"Bro, we go there and shit."
Yeah, Bro, I think you're doing it wrong.
The escaping kids gain a couple of allies:  a nice lady who helps them because she's kind, and Sande, a greedy conman puppeteer pick-pocket (yes indeed) who has other motives:

"I'm handsome, polite, and lovely Sande."
He's certainly not "modest Sande" though, is he?
Their main non-comic-relief enemy is an evil villain named King Fifth, who thinks nothing of picking up four of our tike-sized heroes in each hand and flinging them across the room.  He also has real anger management issues.  For instance, when he hears the kids might be hiding out in a Shaolin Temple, he busts out with some spontaneous, furious kung fu leaf raking for no reason at all.

If you do Angry Kung Fu Leaf Raking, you just might have an anger management problem!

Bottom Line of this Chinese Movie Review:  Not great, but definitely worth seeing anyway, if only to experience how much weirder a Chinese kid's movie is than an American one.


  1. Oh right! Carmen Lee was in this one. I must have this.

  2. @GroggyBot: Absolutely! She makes a pretty good heroine in this film.