Arts and Entertainment
By Patrick Macias
BUCKTOOTHED AND CRAZY : that's Yuen Cheung-yan, director and titular star of 1984's Taoism Drunkard, screening as part of the Four Star's Thursday-night "Kung Fu Kult Klassics" series, which runs March 21 through May 9. Now add "inebriated out of his damn-fool skull on gasolinelike Chinese wine" to the equation, and an idea of the film's remarkable mise-en-scène begins to emerge. In short, this one is a doozy. It's the hyperactive, nonsensical, wacky-whack kung fu comedy of your red sorghum-induced reveries. A product of the famed Yuen clan's earlier, funnier years, before some of them (Matrix martial arts choreographer Yuen Woo-ping, for example) left Hong Kong for Hollywood, the impossible-to-summarize Taoism is less a single narrative arc than a parade of mad eye-popping highlights. Consider the "banana monster," a giggling, razor-toothed, cannonball-shaped guardian robot designed to protect a valuable "ancestral writ" by inspiring fear of vagina dentata in all male trespassers. Consider also the drunkard's first appearance in the film, driving a wobbly wicker car shaped like a mouse's head in search of what the fractured subtitles refer to as "cherry boys." Sure, the film slows down a few times and takes long digressive turns into tiresome, bawdy humor, but just as with the Yuen brothers' similar Miracle Fighters, you are continually on your toes, because anything can (and will) happen at any time: the psychically gifted "Old Granny" (Yuen Chueng-yan in drag) busts out with an opium bong and uses the burning cherry as a weapon; during a street fight a brawler suddenly starts break-dancing in a brief but memorable demonstration of his "machine fist"; a character known as "astronomical bastard old devil" jumps down from the ceiling and attacks foes with a flying metal sphere that spits out tiny versions of itself. There's a lot of silly play with illusion, stunt dummies, and double takes. It's as if Georges Méliès never died, moved to Hong Kong, and became a bit of a drunkard himself. And after watching Taoism Drunkard, you'll probably need a bit of tipple as well.
Patrick Macias is the author of TokyoScope: The Japanese Cult Film Companion.