Drunken Master (1978) – Film Review
Director: Yuen Woo-ping
Cast: Jackie Chan, Yuen Siu-tien, Hwang Jang Lee
by Roger Crow
I have a lot of time for Jackie Chan. The martial arts specialist became an inspiration for many after Bruce Lee’s untimely death, and in an age before the genre was dominated by Steven Seagal, Jean Claude van Damme and the like, Chan was wowing millions in the west with his jaw-dropping stunts.
Drunken Master, his 1978 ‘masterpiece’ is being released on Blu-ray and DVD, and after watching for an hour, I was wondering why they’d bothered. It’s a curious beast: partly badly dubbed in American and partly in its original language with subtitles. Either way it’s pretty tiresome.
“Amusing but annoying”
Director Yuen Woo-ping, who later choreographed The Matrix movies, showcases Chan’s impressive skills, though at times it’s more irritating than enjoyable. He plays Wong Fei-hung, a Chinese folk hero, who has also been played by Jet Li among others. In this version he’s amusing but annoying. Okay, the gags he can do with a sword alone are stunning, but like a lot of action movies, if it’s a series of strung together fight scenes and no substance, I soon get pretty bored.
Punished for his frequent troublemaking, our hero is forced to study under martial arts master Su Hua Chi (Yuen Siu-tien), the boozy eponymous protagonist who left previous students crippled. When Wong’s father is targeted for assassination, the student gets to put his skills to the test.
“The man has skills”
Thankfully there’s plenty of extra goodies on the new dual release DVD and Blu-ray, so if this is your sort of thing, chances are you’ll get a lot more out of it. Gareth Evans, Brit genius behind The Raid movies, is clearly a fan and adds his thoughts in one of the extras.
My advice is watch John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow II instead, a film with plenty of touching moments, so by the time the action arrives, you genuinely care about the characters. Comedy is obviously subjective and Chan’s humour is a bit too slapstick for my tastes, but there’s no denying the man has skills, and so do many of his co-stars. Just a shame the gags wear so thin so fast.
‘Drunken Master’ is available for £12.99 from Eureka