Drunken Master (1978) Review

"Drunken Master" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Drunken Master" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Director: Yuen Woo Ping
Producer: Ng See Yuen
Cast: Jackie Chan, Simon Yuen, Hwang Jang Lee, Lam Kau, Dean Shek, Hsu Hsia, Linda Lin Jing, Tino Wong Cheung, San Kuai, Lee Chun Hwa, Chiang Kam, Fung King Man, Ho Tin Shing, Huang Ha, Max Lee, Tam Bo, Tong Jing, Wang Han Chen, Ringo Wong, Brandy Yuen
Running Time: 106 min.

By Mairosu

Is there any genre in this world more prolific than the Hong Kong martial arts one? For decades already the good folks from the ex-British colony delight us with their portraits of fearless heroes and evil villains, cheesy soundtracks, cheap “crash-swish-hack” sound effects and, most importantly, a roller-coaster ninety-odd minutes worth of sheer, harmless, moral-ridden bone-breaking fun.

But then again, there’s only that much clichés which you can swallow. A solid 80% of all kung-fu capers (well, okay, maybe I¹m exaggerating, but it does sound funny if you say something like that) work something like this:

* Young hero/hero/whatever knows good kung fu.

* Young hero/hero/whatever meets a better kung fu guy who beats him up.

* Young hero/hero/whatever goes into seclusion to better his skills.

* Young hero/hero/whatever mauls some local big shot to gain confidence.

* Young hero/hero/whatever meets that better kung fu guy from three lines before and takes his revenge.

And, sure ’nuff, Woo-Ping Yuen’s 1978. film Drunken Master doesn’t fall far from that standard, roughly looked at it. But…but – Drunken Master manages to be different, and it sticks out of the genre by implementing a genuine oriental brand of slapstick humour into the already worn out “kick flick” genre. And from what I hear, it may be also one of the first kung-fu films to come up with the above given filming pattern…although that’s debatable.

The movie tells us the story of young Wong Fei-Hong (played by then relatively unknown Jackie Chan), a Chinese folk hero in historical terms (who happens to be a staple topic of the Chinese film industry – later also played in a more “serious” role by Jet Li in Once Upon a Time in China franchise), and his shenanigans at his father’s martial arts college. Wong is a real rascal – he’s a talented fighter, but spends his free time in a more hedonistic fashion instead of perfecting his kung-fu, which comes back to bite him in the behind when he finally crosses the proverbial line of fatherly toleration and his dad decides to send him off to his uncle as a punishment. Now that might sound like a holiday trip to someone, but not to Wong – his uncle is no one else than the legendary “drunken master” Su Hua Chi (played by Siu Tien Yuen, father of the director Woo-Ping), who has his unique style of kung fu which is most effective when you’re well tanked with alcohol, and his training methods are no cakewalk either. To complete the story, insert an evil kung fu master come hired gun…err, fist called “Thunderleg” (Jang Lee Hwang, who’s quite frankly looking like a Cantonese 70s disco artist), who plays the role of the “better kung fu guy who beats the hero up” and gets arse-whupped in the end.

So as you can, highly substantial fare. But it’s all worthwhile when the kicks start flying. The martial arts on display are typically dazzling (director Yuen choreographed the fight sequences for all three Matrix films and worked on Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon as well) and the gentle touches of early Chan brilliance come into spotlight when he learns the “eight drunken gods technique”, and starts beating up baddies while stuttering about, drunk as a skunk which was let loose in a brewery. While Jackie will captivate you with his martial arts trickery, the real delight of the film is Siu Tien Yuen (who was – watch this – 66 years old at the time of the shoot), with his mop-like hairdo and a nose which would make Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer look ordinary, his arsenal of wacky kung-fu moves being a key part to his on-screen appearance. And can that be Bolo Yeung as the restaurant bouncer (I definitely saw that chest muscle routine before) ?

Drunken Master is the film which definitely buried Jackie Chan, the Bruce Lee heir apparent and gave birth to Jackie Chan, the drop-kicking comedian, such being an important landmark in the Asian cinema history. The humour, although evidently present, isn’t as polished as in later Chan films (Project A, Armour of Gods, Wheels on Meals), and the accent in this one is more on fights than on slapstick, but even so it’s well worth of rental and/or purchase. Beware of the Columbia Tri-Star DVD release which is reportedly five minutes shorter than the original and has an incomplete Cantonese voice track which is every now and then “filled” with English dialogue (nothing bad with the dub which is quite fine, just the language switch can be annoying sometimes).

Mairosu’s Rating: 8/10

By Ro

Finally I managed to get hold of a copy of this classic (my Blockbuster had it in the ‘Foreign-drama’ section! Go figure!). Yes, this is the one – the movie that made Jackie a star and changed the course of Hong Kong cinema forever. It’s pretty obvious why – at last Jackie is set free from the bad writing and directing and is allowed to relax and let his natural charm and charisma show. And boy, does it show! You can see the joy he took in the making of this film in every frame!

A lot has been written about this movie, so I won’t go into details. I just want to add that unlike some similar films (Snake In The Eagle’s Shadow & Fearless Hyena), this movie is funny all the way thru. It doesn’t get serious either during the training scenes or at the end like they do. In fact, in the final show-down fight between Jackie and the bad guy hit man, his master sits by the side of the field, shouting out techniques to use, for all the world like a drunken cheerleader. And when Jackie actually stops the fight at one point to confess that he never studied a particular one, he is roundly cursed and told to ‘improvise’! Priceless!!

Before I finish, just a word about the dubbing – it stank!!! I want to take out whoever is responsible for translating this film and shoot him! Do they really think that phrases like ‘Look at the chick’, ‘You’re a shithead’, and ‘Go clean toilets’ sound normal coming out of the mouths of these whatever century they’re supposed to be from men?

Anyway, you have to see this film, if only to see what started it all and see a naturally talented actor come into his own (he must have been naturally talented because he sure didn’t learn from ‘the director that shall be nameless’).

Ro’s Rating: 8/10

By Stockton22

Why do I love this movie?! Why?! I’LL TELL YA WHY! Well, there’s a number reasons, but to start, let’s cut to the to the true epicenter of it all. FIGHTING! To the uninitiated among you, Drunken Master is not a realistic looking fighting film. Rather, it’s typical of its 1970’s Hong Kong period Translation, its a cheesy, low-budget chopsocky flick. So, yes, a lot of the time you’ll see people fighting in that kind of staccato, stop-pop-and-pose chopsocky manner where one guy will block a punch or something and the two guys will hold that position for a second or two before they continue. Yeah, try fighting someone in real life like that, see how well that works.

You’d think that page one in the Shaolin Temple Handbook is “Don’t just stand there and let the guy hit you.” And yes, its all punctuated all those loud sound effects (the swoosh, the pop, et al). That being said, it’s about the best cheesy chopsocky flick you’re likely to see. This comic take on the youth of Chinese legend Wong Fei-Hung, is filled with, quite possibly, the most remarkable abundance of spectacular fighting choreography ever amassed into a single film. I’m saying, not only are the fight scenes great, there’s so many of them! Jackie seems to get into a fight everywhere he goes in this movie. If his teacher says, “Let’s go to town.” it means there’s gonna be a fight in town. I’ll put it this way, when I out for a quart of milk, I come back with a quart of milk. When Wong Fe-Hung goes out for a quart of milk, he’ll beat up two guys along the way and have big showdown with the cashier at the deli.

But another reason I love this movie is, because the fighting keeps you glued, all the cheesy overtones just seem like entertaining bonuses thrown into the whole mix. Example, during Jackie’s punishment through practice scenes, why is there this freaky Greek mandolin music playing? They used the same kind of music in just about every scene of “Hercules in New York,” but in that context it made a little sense. Another thing, all the villains in the movie have names that describe their talents and/or oddities, like a kung fu version of Dick Tracy. Just like Flat Top having a head with a flat top, our main antagonist is a guy with a powerful kick named Thunderfoot, played by Korean martial artist Wang Jang Lee, who bears a remarkable resemblance to Tony Orlando(Anyone ever see the two of them together? Me neither.). I guess that either his parents had foresight, or he adopted it along the way. My guess is he showed up a the office one day, and something like this happened:

* Phil: You know something Bob?

* Bob: What, Phil?

* Phil: I love to kick things. I really love it, I just kick things all the time. Kick kick kick. I’m a kickin’ fool. In fact, you might as well just call me Thunderfoot.

There’s also a guy with a really hard head, who, based on the way he introduces himself, was apparently raised on James Bond films. “They call me Rat. Ironhead Rat.” But my personal favorite is King of Sticks. What’s with this guy? They say, “Who are you?” and he says “KING OF STICKS!” First of all, anybody who proclaims himself to be the king of something has serious insecurity issues, and if there’s any doubt that that’s true, look no farther than Lord of the Dance Michael Flatly.

Second, this guy can’t fight without a stick? Jackie shows up at King’s (or is it Mr. of Sticks?) place, and the guy turns to his lackey and says “Get my Stick!” The next time you get into a fight on the street, see what happens when you say, “Hold up, I’ll fight you guys, but first I have to go home and get my stick.” Throw a Freudian interpretation of that into the whole mix and you got one screwed up bad guy. All this and: the buck-toothed waiter, the fact that in the dubbed version, instead of Fei-Hung, Jackie is called Freddy, Jackie gets hit butt kicked by an old lady, and so much more. I LOVE THIS MOVIE!

Stockton22’s Rating: 9/10

By Dead Channel

This one is pure gold. Of course it can’t touch the sequel in terms of moderness/dopeness, but that shouldn’t stop anybody from peeping the “roots”. Hah! It’s just fucking great the way Jackie gets his arse beat by his aunt without him even knowing who she is. Fei-Hong gets into all kinds of trouble in this one, quickly yet ultimately leading up to his dismissal. As mentioned numerous other times, this one is quite similar to Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow. I say because all the actors are the same, and they’re all playing the same parts!

The drunken boxing was held off until the final fight scene, where it isn’t even that explosive (of course, after Drunken Master 2, what is?) granted the time period (Dinasaur age-the 70’s ewwwww!). Hah, in all seriousness, this is the epitome of kung-fu cinema. This is the kind of shit that as a kid I waiting all week for – the saturday kung-fu movie. Remember the time? *Sneef* Anyway, check it out…by any means necessary suckerz!

Dead Channel’s Rating: 10/10

By DJ Nixon

Ok, let me say this, the plot stunk but the action is one of the best you will see in a Chan film. Even though Jackie not a really good kung fu fighter he still gets in some good fights through out the movie. I thought the funniest part was when Jackie ate all of the owner’s food and he didn’t have any money to pay for it, but one thing I don’t get is that the owner and his helpers always try to beat the guy up I he doesn’t pay his bill ( Heart of Dragon), my opinion is that thats pretty stupid but the more action the better. There are some good fights in the movie but the best are when Jackie starts drinking and then beat’s the guys up, and the final fight is the best. Go see this movie it’s definately one of Jackie’s best.

DJ Nixon’s Rating: 10/10

By Numskull

Looks like I’m one of the few who didn’t much care for this (white subtitles made illegible by the picture despite the letterbox format certainly didn’t help). Sure there’s lots of “fighting,” but it’s mostly those damn Buster Keaton routines where Jackie’s opponent is made to look like an absolute dipshit and there’s no serious combat. Plus, Jackie’s character is very diificult to sympathize with… in fact, he’s a reprehensible little prick. And then, towards the end of the movie, a character who we haven’t seen in an hour reveals his diabolical plot to mine Jackie’s father’s property for coal. Of course! From drunken fist kung fu to coal!! It’s where the movie was headed all along!!! This wasn’t a BAD movie but it was definitely disappointing in light of all the hype. I would much rather have spent my time giving the Spice Girls a fully interactive tour of a medieval torture chamber.

Numskull’s Rating: 6/10

By Snake

The old man in one of Jackie Chan’s earliest efforts wasn’t the only one who had too much to drink. The scriptwriters, and we use that term very loosely, must have been tanked when they came up the idea for this piece of nonsense. What I was able to gather from the terribly dubbed and horribly acted film is that Mr. Chan had to visit a fellow resembling Carl “Oldy” Olsen from the Conan O’Brien show for kung fu lessons in order to prepare himself for a climatic scene when he dueled it out with an Elvis impersonator. Elvis’ sideburns put up quite a fight, but the acrobatic Chan, who might have a career with the Flying Walendas should he seek a new line of work, was able to defeat Elvis after consuming mass quantities of some sort of bevergage that the Dukes of Hazzard wouldn’t even tramsport, let alone drink.

At an interminable 90 minutes, the film begs for fast fowarding after some 30 or 40 minutes. The unintended laughs come from the most part from a batch of sound effects that was left over from Three Stooges films. Where was Mo, Larry and Curley or even Shemp-don’t get me started on Joe Besser-when they were so desperately needed? Do yourself a favor and skip this film. Instead try one of Chan’s latest ventures where the sciptwriters are stoned instead of drunk. I always did some of my best work when I was wasted.

Snake’s Rating: 2/10

By David Bell

Mighty Peking Man, producer of this fine web page, asked me what I thought about Jackie Chan and I told him I like what I’ve see so far. So he asked me to write a review and he even offered to let me see one of his copies, so here we go. I went over to Jeff’s house and caught Drunken Master. Here’s what I could figure out from the movie.

First a guy that looks like Elvis says he’s taken a kung fu bounty on some guy and proceeds to kick his heiney in, culminating a freeze frame of Elvis kicking the guy in the chest with both feet to deliver the death blow. Which was kind of cool ’cause it looked like the “to be continued” last panel of an old issue of Tales of Suspense where Batroc the Leaper kicked Captain America right in the star on Cap’s chest (Don’t worry. In the next issue Cap wipes the floor with Batroc.). After the credits, Jackie’s practicing kung fu with his class but he decides that his teacher, this guy with a huge mole and more hair coming out of it than is on Bruce Willis’ head, is a real dork. So Jackie kung fu’s him all over the floor until Mole Man calls recess.

On the break the guys in Jackie’s class see a babe so they bet Jackie that he can’t get a kiss AND a hug. Why is the hug the second thing? I’ve hugged women I’ve barely met. But try getting a little lip action and that’s all she wrote. Anyway, Jackie cons her into a kiss and gets the hug when he scares her with a snake. The babe’s mother comes out and tells Jackie “Hey, that’s my daughter and did you know I was one of the original Solid Gold dancers?” But Jackie tells her that Donna Summer sucked so she disco fu’s Jackie all over the court yard. Upset that he got whupped by a woman, he sees a guy in a Good humor suit pay a dime for a piece of jade that an old guy is selling for ten bucks. When good humor refuses to pay up, he smashes the jade so Jackie teaches him a lesson in supply-side economics and does $100 in collateral damage to the old guys shack to get the ten bills out of the ice cream guy. Jackie goes home to find that the disco queen is really his aunt (which makes the kiss from the babe really weird since that’s his first cousin, but nobody thinks twice about it) and Good Humor’s father comes in to moan about Jackie not working and playing well with others.

So old man makes Jackie pretend he’s a Barco-Lounger and crouch with his arms out for three hours. but Jackie cheats and his dad says that it’s time for the big guns, his uncle is going to teach him kung fu. But Jackie hears that his uncle is badder than old King Kong and meaner than a junk yard dog, so Jackie runs away. He winds up in a restaurant where he tries to scam some food, but he gets caught and an oriental Arnold Schwartzenegger kung fu’s Jackie until he horks back up the whole meal. After Jackie’s last technicolor yawn, he’s rescued by the Drunken Master, who turns out to be uncle. He trains Jackie a little but Jackie runs away and meets up with Elvis. Elvis plays “Don’t Be Cruel” on rib cage and Jackie figures he better head back to his uncle, not only to train but because the old guy has the Beefeater.

The Drunken Master tries to get Jackie into the kung fu training but Jackie doesn’t care until they decide to run a three card monte con. This bald guy sees his rent go into the Drunken Master’s pocket and decides to deliver some vigilante justice. Jackie plays the drum solo to “Wipe Out” on the guy’s skull, and before the bald guy lapses into a coma he tells them, “I’m gonna get my big brother! Then you’ll be sorry!”. Then the Drunken Master makes Jackie pretend he’s Rocky Balboa and they do some training until the bald guy, moments away from the aneurysm, shows up with his brother stick man. Stick man does the job on Drunken Master because Jackie brought back Perrier instead of Stoli, but Jackie still manages to take him down. Then the Drunken master explains that the only way to fight is completely wasted because even if you can’t beat the guy at least you’re numb.

So they Rocky a little more and then Jackie does his drunk Rocky so we know he’s ready to face Elvis again. But Elvis is busy using his swivel hip fu on dad because the Good Humor guy’s old man took out a contract on him. Jackie shows up just in time, but Elvis whips out a little “Teddy Bear” ands starts winning. Then the Drunken master shows up, tosses Jackie a bottle of Jack Daniels and tells him “Make him pay for Kissing Cousins and a Change of Habit!” So Jackie drunk fu’s Elvis all the way back to “Jailhouse Rock” which even Jackie has to admit was not bad. And the whole family walks off into the sunset. Overall I have to say that I like Chan’s later stuff better than this. After ten minutes, as good as the choreography is, it really is all the same. The last third of the movie was viewed in fast forward and I don’t think I missed any of the plot.

David Bell’s Rating: 5/10

By The Great Hendu

I’ve heard all the raves so I just had to see it. Now that I have, (infact I watched it twice back-to-back), I can honestly say, THIS IS THE BEST CHAN MOVIE I’VE EVER SEEN!!! I am continually astounded by Jackie’s ability. This movie showcases everything. He uses snake and crane as well as all eight Drunken Gods methods. He also does an excellent job acting. The movie was well written, easy to follow and never had a dry moment. The production is lightyears ahead of Fearless Hyena or even Snake and Crane Arts of Shaolin. I love this movie. As a matter of fact, I think I’ll go watch it again!

The Great Hendu’s Rating: 10/10

By Dan-O

Drink a little wine; kick a little ass; get down tonight! I was hesitant about renting this one. I kept having bad flashbacks of “To Kill With Intrigue” and that Fantasy Mission Crapola thing. But DAMN this was good. Lemme say that again, just because…; DAMN this was good. It was so damn good I bootlegged it. Hey, anybody else notice that you never actually see the old guy performing the really tricky moves; you only saw his back, never his face. Anyhow, as good as the fight scenes are in this lil’ gem, the dubbed dialogue was even more entertaining! Some of the better lines include “I THINK I’M HOOKED!!”… “You call that Gung-Fu?! Who the hell teaches you?” “MY DAD DOES!!!”… and who could possibly forget “A FART for the STICK KING!”.

Dan-O’s Rating: 10/10

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