Originally released in 1983, “Taoism Drunkard” (released previously in the West under the moniker “Drunken Wutang”) is another insane martial arts comedy from the Yuen Clan, who were also responsible for such nonsensical delights as “Miracle Fighters” and “Shaolin Drunkard”. Produced by Lo Wei, the film was directed by Yuen Cheung Yan, who also plays the title character, a much loved role which he had essayed on many other occasions. Even by the wacky standards of the genre, or indeed of the Yuen Clan themselves the film is a pretty far out affair, frequently defying belief with its antics, though thankfully in cheerful and highly entertaining fashion.
Politely put, the plot is difficult to describe. The film begins as the villainous Old Devil (classic kung fu villain Sunny Yuen) attempts to steal a mystical writ which belongs to the leader of the clan which previously expelled him for his wicked ways. After he is thwarted, the action switches to the bumbling drunkard Taoist priest of the title (played by Yuen Cheung Yan), who runs into trouble up at the temple on Dragon Tiger Mountain after he manages to break a sacred statue. The abbot charges him with begging enough money to fix the statue, as well as finding a ‘cherry boy’ (i.e. a virgin) who was born at midnight on the 15th of August in the year of ‘Gang Sun’. Though he doesn’t put much effort into his search beyond rounding up a few kids and trying to examine their nether regions, he eventually comes across Yuen Chu (Yat Chor Yuen, also in the Shaw Brothers films “The Lizard” and “Duel of Fists”), a young hothead whose grandmother (also Yuen Cheung Yan) just happens to be the guardian of the writ. Needless to say, Old Devil soon turns up to cause trouble and the two have to join forces to stop him getting his hands on it.
It really cannot be stressed enough that “Taoism Drunkard” is an insane piece of film making. If nothing else, this is underlined in bold type by the presence of the ‘banana monster’, a big round bomb (possibly) with a red-lipsticked mouth full of sharp teeth, which shoots out nipple grabbing tentacles and which speaks in a high pitched voice. Even without this crazy creature the film would still stand as some kind of landmark in defiance of cinematic logic, with the plot staggering around in the same drunken manner as Yuen Cheung Yan’s Taoist priest, flitting between characters on a whim and frequently shooting off on bizarre tangents.
Although this makes the film difficult to follow in a traditional narrative sense, it works very well as a scattershot comedy, thanks to its wacky creativity, Yuen’s high energy direction, and above all, its irrepressible sense of fun. The slapstick comes thick and fast, and is imaginatively staged throughout, with a number of clever set pieces, including the priest’s driving of a small mouse shaped car and a hilarious bout of 1980s style robot dancing, which comes complete with a sudden burst of electronic music. Unconstrained by such trifling concerns as logic or good sense, Yuen throws in a wild array of gags, making the most of such genre stalwarts as a massive woman whose martial arts skills consist of sitting on people, as well as plenty of crotch bashing and accidental urine drinking. The film packs in an incredible array of delightfully surreal moments, and as such it really is hard not to get caught up in all the craziness, and although incredibly random, Yuen ensures that the proceedings never frustrate or distance the viewer.
Gags aside, the film does feature a fair amount of honest martial arts action, with some decent fight choreography. Of course, most of the duels are a little hard to take seriously, being filled with high flying wire work and jaw dropping magical moves, though they are exciting nonetheless and Yuen has the good sense to throw in a brawl any time the pace threatens to flag, which, it has to be said, is not often.
As such, “Taoism Drunkard” stands as a classic piece of over the top Hong Kong entertainment, and is required viewing for fans of martial arts comedies. Endearingly insane and raucously amusing, it shows the kind of mad creativity at the heart of the genre’s golden age back in the early 1980s, and which has sadly rarely been seen of late.
Cheung-Yan Yuen (director) / XXX (screenplay)
CAST: Cheung-Yan Yuen … The Drunken Taoist / Grandmother
Po Tai … Pang
Shun-Yee Yuen … Old Devil aka Master Ruthless
Yat Chor Yuen … Wu Shun Chiu