An HBO Asia original movie take on the classic story of the Drunken Master himself, Beggar So! Starring Zhi Hui Chen, Jun Cao, Mei Ying Wang and directed by Jian Yong Guo and executive produced by the legendary martial arts action director Corey Yuen (“X-Men”, “Lethal Weapon 4” and “The Expendables”).
Jun Cao is a popular mainland Chinese television actor, who here plays the young “Su Can”, who will eventually become “Beggar So”. Zhi Hui Chen plays the leader of the Beggar Sect, “Lau Pak-Gwai”. He is best known to Western audiences for his roles as Master Chin in Jet Li’s “Fearless” and Master Liu in Donnie Yen’s “Ip Man”.
Ming Yang Jiang plays the scheming Chief Eunuch “Song Fok-Hoi”, who destroys Su Can’s life.
Playing Lau Pak-Gwai’s daughter “Yoke Long”, Mei Ying Wang is a mainland Chinese actress and stunt performer whose credits include “Journey to the West”, “The Invaluable Treasure” and “The Kung Fu Master”.
The son of a wealthy merchant in Canton, Su Can was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Smart, ambitious and one step away from becoming the Emperor’s top martial arts warrior, he is dragged into a conspiracy between two political powers in the imperial court. Losing everything, including his family, he survives thanks to a gang of beggars. Seeking revenge with the help of the leader of the beggar gang and his daughter, and a little bit of precious Chinese “Tipsy Monkey” liquor, he trains in the long lost Kung Fu style of the Drunken Fist!
The fighting gets going pretty quickly in a scene reminiscent of the fight under the railway platform in Jackie Chan’s “Drunken Master 2”. The young Su Can finds a suspicious intruder in a royal kitchen at the Forbidden City, where he receives his first taste of Drunken Boxing. The choreography is very fluid, presented as you would expect from the best Chinese productions; wide angled long takes with wires and slow motion to emphasise the more extravagant moves.
Su Can begins to accept his loss of status, but virtually crippled, he is unable to defend himself when he and his friend Monkey Boy are attacked by those gloating at his fall from grace. The Beggar Chief’s daughter leaps into action to save the newly self-proclaimed “Beggar So”. The standard of the choreography is high in a battle of Iron Head kung fu versus Jianshu.
Su Can is taken as the Chief’s disciple and the obligatory training begins with a nice and accurate, explanation of the essence of Drunken Boxing and its form. As with True Legend, the Drunken style here is based more on the wushu form rather than the Eight Immortals version of the Jackie Chan movies.
When the Beggar Sect is attacked, we get our first glimpse of Beggar So’s drunken fighting. There are plenty of moves that fans of this unique style will recognise and lots of wirework to boot.
The final fight again displays some familiar drunken techniques mostly performed on wires.
Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master films are among my favourite kung fu films, and I also enjoyed Yuen Woo-ping’s take on the Beggar So origin story, “True Legend”. This made-for-television production is nothing if not ambitious in tackling this popular story.
The production value is high here, with sumptuous-looking period sets and costumes, and cinematic camerawork. It’s certainly a good-looking film and could easily transfer to a theatrical screen. Jun Cao is an engaging leading man, who reminds me of a young Louis Fan Siu Wong, and is very convincing when performing the martial arts forms.
There is something slightly “old-fashioned” about the way the plot unfolds. The story is treated seriously, with little of the humour evident in the Jackie Chan movies. There is an unexpected, if rather convenient twist in the tale too. It reminded me of the old Shaw Brothers films from the late sixties and early seventies. It’s all rather melodramatic, which will be common for Chinese television audiences. For Western audiences however, I think hardcore kung fu movie fans will enjoy a chance to see this type of production, but might find themselves fast-forwarding to the well filmed and choreographed, albeit derivative, drunken fight sequences.
- Director Jian Yong Guo has had a long association with legendary action choreographer, Corey Yuen, and has previously worked on The Transporter movies, “Kiss of the Dragon”, “The One”, “DOA: Dead or Alive”, “War”, “Red Cliff”, “Cradle to the Grave” and “The Man with the Iron Fists”.