Posted: 09/15/2009


Force Of Four Blu-Ray Box Set: Iron Monkey, Hero, The Legend of Drunken Master, Zatoichi

by Del Harvey

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On September 15th, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment and Miramax Films release four Kung Fu action classics: The Legend of Drunken Master, Hero, Zatoichi, and Iron Monkey.

The Legend of Drunken Master was originally released in 1994 and was known in every other part of the world as Drunken Master II. It is widely considered one of Jackie Chan’s best martial arts films and features some of his best and most furious fight sequences ever captured on film. They are unique, elaborate and most entertaining.

In The Legend of Drunken Master, Mr. Chan plays a highly fictionalized version of well-regarded martial arts master Wong Fei-Hung, whose skill and style arose in the early 1900s and who, legend has it, defeated a gang of over 30 men single-handed, armed at points in the battle with only a bamboo staff.

That battle is recreated by Jackie Chan and is as energetic and dynamically charged as anything he has ever done. Chan is a whirling dervish of amazing acrobatics and blindingly fast as he fends off two dozen toughs when they storm an otherwise quiet restaurant.

Re-mastered in Blu-Ray, the film - and Jackie Chan - are simply that much more amazing to watch. For sheer martial arts mastery when Mr. Chan was at the height of his abilities, The Legend of Drunken Master is a wonderful inclusion in the Force of Four.

In Zatoichi, The Blind Swordsman, Japan’s great actor/director “Beat” Takeshi Kitano takes on a classic of myth and popular culture and the result is dazzlingly brilliant.

In his adaptation, Kitano does not overlook the necessary elements of the genre, and even manages to evoke themes which are reminiscent ShintarĂ´ Katsu’s great original presentation which is at once philosophical, stoic, and humorous.

Both directing in and starring as Zatoichi, a wandering monk with a talent for swordsmanship given to bouts of gambling when he’s not making money as a masseur, Kitano’s portrayal of this popular character manages to be very personal, infusing the personal with his trademark offbeat tones. But not to worry; the action is swift and the sword’s edge is razor sharp.

Iron Monkey stars a younger Donnie Yen and is directed by the amazing Yuen Wo Ping, and that combination provides a dizzying and dazzling kung fu gem. This is the same gentleman whose work is known to American audiences mostly through the Matrix films and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

In Iron Monkey, Yuen Wo Ping is both director and choreographer. The story blends historical and fictional characters, and the lead is the fictitious Yu Rong Guang, a 19th-century folk hero who disguises himself by day as a mild-mannered local doctor, assisted by a beautiful and equally athletic assistant (Jean Wang). Highly respected Chinese action star Donnie Yen portrays the historical kung fu master whose young son one day grows up to be the equally real turn-of-the-century martial artist Wong Fei Hong (See The Legend of Drunken Master above). The fight sequences are nonstop, building to a climactic showdown on fiery poles as Yuen causes his characters to deal with typical martial arts film issues regarding rooms full of villains who refuse to go away without even the most marginal of thumpings.

In Hero, the Qin King has long been obsessed with conquering all of China and becoming her first Emperor, which makes him the target of three legendary assassins. To anyone who defeats the assassins, the King promises great power, a mountain of gold, and a private audience with the King himself. Jet Li heads the stellar cast of Hero as Nameless, the enigmatic county sheriff who earns his audience with the mighty King. Co-starring are Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung, and Donnie Yen. The brilliant Zhang Yimou directs this beautifully photographed film which is finally done justice in Blu-Ray format with its inherently rich palette and deeply saturated production designs.

Extras which come with the Ultimate Force of Four Box Set: The Black Belt Collection are…

Blu-ray and DVD Bonus Features:
- ALL NEW BONUS FEATURE: Close-Up of a Fight Scene
- Hero defined
- Storyboards
- Inside the Action: A Conversation with Quentin Tarantino & Jet Li

Blu-ray Bonus Features:
- Quentin Tarantino interview
- Donnie yen interview

Blu-ray Bonus Features:
- Behind the Master: An interview with Jackie Chan

Blu-ray Bonus Features:
- Behind-the-Scenes special
- Video interviews

Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly, a film teacher, a writer and a film critic in Chicago.

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