It’s February and everything sucks right now, so it’s time to unwind with February Fisticuffs – a punchy look at some of the best, worst and most average boxing, kung fu and martial arts movies.
Son directs father in Dance of the Drunk Mantis, an amusing 1979 martial arts movie. Yuen Woo-ping is the director, with his father Yuen Siu-tien reprising his role as Beggar So from the 1978 classic Drunken Master. Woo-ping helmed Drunken Master, so the terrain is familiar and the talent is abundant.
Dance of the Drunk Mantis is one of many unsanctioned sequels to Drunken Master, with even the poster art proclaiming it as a second part of sorts to the Jackie Chan vehicle. But this joint is from Ng See-yuen’s Seasonal Film Corporation, which puts it on different ground entirely and ensures that it is not at all a sequel in any legal or official sense. Or whatever.
Beggar So (Siu-tien) is on his way home from training someone. Along the way, he’s set upon by scammers and is targeted by Rubber Legs (Hwang Jang Lee) and his student (Cory Yuen). Rubber Legs is a master of another style of drunken fist and he wants to take on Beggar So to prove that his methods are superior.
To make matters more interesting, Beggar So returns home to find out that his wife (Linda Lin Ying) has adopted a dippy son named Foggy (Yuen Shun-yee). Foggy is good-natured to a fault and wants his father to teach him martial arts. When that doesn’t pan out, he learns a unique style of kung fu and helps his father dispatch the bad guys.
There’s a lot to like about Dance of the Drunk Mantis and it’s fun to watch Siu-tien in his final screen performance. Beggar So is a bit of an asshole this time around and his relationship with his adopted son is tricky. Siu-tien and his stunt double carve out some inspiring martial arts sequences, too.
At the core of the film is a knockout fight between Beggar So and Rubber Legs. It commences with some civility, despite the latter’s intrusion, and breaks apart as the two drunken masters battle over some white wine. Hwang Jang Lee, noted for his whirling kicks, is a more than formidable martial artist and his style overwhelms Siu-tien and his stunt doubles.
It’s interesting to note that the protagonists spend so much time having their asses handed to them by the antagonists. Not only is Rubber Legs a superior fighter to Beggar So on account of his drunken/mantis merger, Foggy doesn’t fare well until he learns the secrets of “sickness style” thanks to Yen Shi-kwan’s character.
That’s not to say father and adopted son are entirely inept. They do take on Dean Shek’s Moneybags, a dodgy banker who shows off his knockers. Their fight is comedic and drags on a bit too long, especially as Moneybags trots out his “push style” of martial arts and Beggar So starts snatching jewels.
Dance of the Drunk Mantis is an enjoyable movie, with ample kung fu and Cantonese comedy to pass the time. It’s not a classic like Drunken Master, but Woo-ping’s mastery and Cheung Hoi’s easygoing cinematography make for an earnest experience. And it’s a boozy pleasure to see Siu-tien do his thing one last time.