Director: Yuen Woo-ping | 98 minutes | Eureka | Out Now
Jackie Chan plays Wong Fei-hung (a legendary Chinese folk hero who has also been portrayed on screen by Jet Li, Gordon Liu and Donnie Yen amongst many others), who is punished for his frequent troublemaking by being forced to study under the martial arts master Su Hua Chi (Yuen Siu-tien), notorious for his drinking as much as he is for leaving his students crippled. Wong proves himself an adept pupil, but his new skills are soon put to the test when his own father is targeted by a brutal assassin.
Masters of Cinema dip into some classic kung fu action with this release, 1978’s Drunken Master.
It’s a classic of the genre for several reasons. The action sequences, of which there are plenty, are finely choreographed. There is also the genuinely funny use of humour and jokes. It also contains one of the more iconic performances from Jackie Chan.
Here Chan plays up to his youthful, boyish looks and is a young man capable of some impressive displays of kung fu but lacks the maturity and discipline to fulfil his potential. As is the case with Chan, he comes across as likeable and has an energy that causes his many fight scenes to fly by. Despite there being dozens of these scenes Chan always offers something new in each one which compensates for the repetitive nature of these moments.
The stars comedy talents shine here too, with his mugging to the camera and over the top facial expressions. The ability to mix his action talents with slapstick humour is a great thing to see. Although his ‘drunk’ acting is a little hokey by the standards of today.
Yuen Siu-tien is the titular drunken master, a role he would reprise for other films, and his bleary-eyed, ruddy nosed performance is as equally as funny as Chan is in his part. Siu-tien would pass away a year later at the age of 66.
Speaking of Siu-tien, Drunken Master was directed by his son Yuen Woo-ping. This was only his second feature as a director, his first being the previous years Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow (which also starred his father and Chan). In this movie Woo-ping already shows a quick paced way of capturing the action on screen as well as a flare for visual
The 4k restoration on this release makes Drunken Master look more recent than it actually is. Ageing is barely noticeable. The colours do seem muted but this is an issue that can no doubt be altered with the aid of a remote control…
There are a few extras on this release. One is a recent interview with Chan, speaking in his native tongue, talking about Drunken Master. Another sees Gareth Evans (director of the excellent The Raid series) discussing his history with the movie, the comedy/action mix of the feature and, of course, the success of Jackie Chan. There is also a 40 minute video essay by Tony Rayns, which like most essays by Rayns this is a knowledge filled extra that compliments the main feature nicely and will smarten several viewers up on the genre, Chan and the film itself.
An original and a classic of the genre it resides in, Drunken Master is still entertaining decades after its first release.