6 June 2017





I'm not normally one for action movies, especially action comedies (yes, I freely admit I've turned my snout up at these at times in favour of hard subtitled movies from the Czech Republic!), but these are two of the best of the genre I've ever seen, and I'm not just saying that to persuade you to buy them. I also get horribly tortured by the film people if I don't big up their precious movies every few seconds in my reviews. Oh, of course I'm only kidding, haha. (I'm not kidding, please help me...!)

DRUNKEN MASTER is a kung-fu comedy starring the master of martial acts himself, Jackie Chan. HARD TIMES is a story set in the Depression portraying Charles Bronson as the toughest of tough guys, a bare-knuckle fighter with an empty belly and nothing to lose.

Let's start with DRUNKEN MASTER. It's so funny and fast-moving that you'll actually have to keep your wits about you so you don't miss any of the moves or gags. Jackie Chan plays the lead role of Wong Fei-Hung.

This is a character from Chinese folklore (he was actually real though, I think) who also happens to be a shit-hot expert in martial arts, as well as a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner and a revolutionary. Busy guy. He can't have had much time left over for a wife and kids and a mortgage. Maybe that's a good thing from his point of view, haha.

Anyway, Jackie Chan in 1978 was long-haired, super-fit and incredibly cute. His character is a sort of hapless young fellow whose only talent is for the kung-fu taught to him by his father. For always goofing off and getting into trouble, including trouble with the ladies, Wong's father decides he needs more training in martial arts.

Who better to teach the boy the stern discipline of kung-fu than his uncle, the wily old Beggar So, a legendary martial arts man who is as alcoholic as he is cantankerous...? He teaches Jackie Chan's impressed character moves he's never even dreamed of, moves so slick that they might even help him to defeat Thunderfoot, an assassin with a splendid 'Seventies moustache and a kick like a pre-menstrual mule. That's the plan, anyway...

The fight scenes are super-fast and magnificently choreographed. It's like watching a beautiful but really fast ballet where people beat the living snot out of each other as well as leaping about the place oh-so-artistically. Jackie Chan's body is in superb shape but it's not just his kung-fu that impresses. He's also an incredibly gifted and talented comic actor. His funny facial expressions and sense of comic timing are absolutely spot-on and a joy to watch.

This was the film that catapulted Jackie Chan the actor and martial arts aficionado into the big time. Although I know for a fact that if he hadn't gone into the acting business he'd have started his own cleaning company.

Yep, Jackie Chan is not just a brilliant actor, expert in kung-fu and all-round nice guy but he loves to clean things as well. That's the kind of thing you'll learn about him if you watch the interview with him in the extra features that come with the film.

HARD TIMES is nothing to do with the Charles Dickens' novel of the same name, set in the era of Britain's Industrial Revolution, which I had to study for school. It's the story of Chaney, played by tough-guy actor Charles Bronson, who one fine day hops off a train somewhere in Louisiana during the time of the Great Depression. 

He owns nothing but the clothes on his back and the bag in his hand. He's 'a drifter, a loner, and a man who speaks soft and hits hard,' according to the film's promotional material, which just so happens to be super-accurate.

In no time at all, Chaney has hooked up with James Coburn's hustler character Speed, who arranges bare-knuckle fights for Chaney with all the local tough guys. Like Homer Simpson in THE SIMPSONS when Moe the Bartender becomes his boxing manager, Chaney rapidly becomes the hottest property in town. In the bare-knuckle fighting world, anyway.

The pair end up in New Orleans, along with Speed's girlfriend Gayleen and the opium-addicted Poe, who serves as the little team's medic. Well, he's got a doctor's bag, anyway, and a couple of years of medical school (from donkeys' years ago) under his belt. He also claims to be a direct descendant of Edgar Allan Poe's, if you can believe that.

Speed has big plans for pitting Chaney against all the local fighters and he's super-excited about it. Chaney, however, is a man who never stays in the one place for too long. Riding the rails during the terrible Depression, trying to earn a few bucks for food and lodgings here and there, he's a man without a past or any permanent attachments.

He has no intention of hanging out with Speed forever. But Speed really needs Chaney right now. Speed owes some local mobsters a shitload of dosh and only Chaney's participation in the fight-to-end-all-fights can get him out of the hole he's in. But will the unmovable Chaney play ball and hold off on lighting out until Speed is all square with the gangsters? After all, once he's made his mind up, it stays made up...

Jill Ireland, Charles Bronson's then wife in real life, is beautiful and perfect in the role of Lucy Simpson, the bored and lonely married woman with whom Chaney starts a sort of relationship. Her hubby's in jail and so she lets Chaney come round to her place a few times. It's obvious that they have sex, which is totally understandable. Everyone needs a bit of human contact and comfort occasionally, even drifters. Well, especially drifters.

But Chaney won't even commit to staying a whole night with Lucy. If she's looking for commitment and involvement from Chaney (she is, every woman is!), she's sadly barking up the wrong tree. He's a loner, who uses women for sex and then moves on. He can't even commit to a proper conversation with Lucy, that's how much of a textbook-user-and-commitment-phobe he is.

He is exactly my kind of man, haha. That's the kind I'm always fatally attracted to, anyway. I'm exactly like Lucy. We always think we can change men. We think that we can be the ones to make them settle down and mend their ways and mind their manners, but it never happens. Guys don't change. Not for women, anyway. After a lifetime of trying it the hard way, I've finally given up bothering. Sigh.

Chaney has a kitty-cat, by the way, whose welfare he actually cares about. Isn't that sweet? See, that's why I thought he could be changed. A guy who has a cat can't be all bad. A guy with a pet is obviously crying out for a woman to settle down with, a woman who can turn him into the kind of guy he's secretly longing to be. Why shouldn't I be that woman?

I'm doing it again, aren't I? I'll never learn. Chaney is as fiercely independent as the moggy he feeds. No ties, no-strings-attached, no commitments, no entanglements. That's the way they've always liked it. When they've had what they came for, they'll both be on their way. It ain't nuthin' personal. It's just the way they're made. But if only things were different...! Stop it, Sandra! Just stop it now.

There's a terrific quote online from a lady called Pauline Kael regarding the significance of placing the storyline of the film squarely in the Depression years:

Put [Charles Bronson] in modern clothes and he’s a hard-bitten tough guy, but with that cap on he’s one of the dispossessed — an honest man who’s known hunger.”

I agree totally, by the way. And Charles Bronson (whose tough-guy voice is so distinctive that it's used in THE SIMPSONS, in which there's even a fictional town named after him in Missouri) is utterly magnificent in HARD TIMES as the man who does most of his talking with his fists. He's unforgettable. And, ladies, don't get too excited now but he's wearing a vest for most of the film and his chest and arms are simply divine. Mmmmmm.

Both of these fantastic films are out now (separately, not together, I must add!), each in a lovely Dual-Format Edition, courtesy of the MASTER OF CINEMA SERIES and EUREKA ENTERTAINMENT. They represent the very best in classic action movies and would be the perfect gift for the fan of martial arts or the fan just of guys beating the shite out of each other in general, haha.

They each come with some rather spiffing extra features, including that charming interview with Jackie Chan I mentioned earlier, the one in which he talks about his love of cleaning. Hey, watch it for yourself if you don't believe me...!


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:


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