‘Drunken Master‘ is the film that helped cement Jackie Chan’s reputation and a classic that’s finally getting the full bl-ray treatment…
Producer Ng See-yuen’s pairing of veteran action choreographer Yuen Woo-ping as a first time director and a relatively unknown young martial artist named Jackie Chan as leading man for Snake in the Eagles Shadow , was a risky bet on paper. (Chan was considered box-office poison prior to its release). The action comedy served as a massive showcase for Chan’s incredible physicality and his comedic skills, as well as Yuen’s ability as a director and choreographer and was a huge smash at the Hong Kong box office, as well as across Asia.
The follow up Drunken Master ( 醉拳; Joi Kuen actually meaning Drunken Fist) hit the screen later that same year, and was an even bigger success bringing in more than two and a half times Snake in the Eagle Shadow‘s box office in Hong Kong… and breaking box office records across SE Asia. The movie cemented Chan as the new martial arts hero, and the film is still regarded as a Kung Fu classic to this day. Now, thanks to Eureka Entertainment, the film finally gets the UK Blu-ray release it deserves as part of their Masters of Cinema range…
he film’s main character is actually real life Chinese martial arts legend Wong Fei-hung, a master of traditional Chinese medicine and a patriot. But up until this point, although the character had been the focus of countless movies – with veteran actor Kwan Tak-hing playing the character in over 80 movies – the character had always been portrayed as a very serious respectable traditional martial arts master. Drunken Master took that image and re-invented the character in his youth, as a enthusiastic reckless and irresponsible pugilist, who finally begins to learn about life, martial arts and more from his eccentric master Beggar So.
The film can be looked at as a semi-sequel/reboot of Snake in the Eagles Shadow, taking the best of the first film and streamlining and improving upon it, while bringing back many of the cast and crew, and key ideas for the second film. The story follows the young Wong Fei-hong as he gets into all manner of mischief, from teaching his martial arts teachers a lesson or two, hitting upon a young lady and falling foul of her female guardian, made worse by the revelation they are his visiting aunt and cousin. He beats up the son of an influential businessman, bringing disrespect and trouble to his fathers door. Wong’s father arranges for Beggar So to come and teach his son a lesson or two in both martial arts and life. So had a reputation for crippling his students, so young Fei-hong flees hoping to escape the ordeal. He gets himself into trouble at a restaurant where he encounters an old drunkard who offers him a hand in the ensuing fight, before revealing his is Sam Seed aka Beggar So, the Drunken Master and the man sent to teach him!
Beggar So begins to train Wong, but the rigorous and brutal training regime is too much and he tries to escape again only to fall foul of the notorious Thunder Legs Yim Tit-sam! Yim is the master of a deadly kicking style that has never been defeated and humiliates Wong when they fight. Wong returns to Beggar So, and commits to the training regime, absorbing everything ‘Sam Seed’ will teach him including the Eight Drunken Immortals, a Drunken Style that references 8 Drunken Gods. Wong masters seven of the 8eight styles, abandoning the study of Drunken Miss Ho‘s techniques as he feels that style to be too feminine and of little use.
Meanwhile Master Yim returns, a man on a mission hired to humiliate and kill Wong’s father. Wong’s father fights back and while he is able to defend himself, he is badly injured. But the arrival of Beggar So and young Wong Fei-hong breaks up the fight, and young Wong Fei-hong takes up the fight on his fathers behalf. It’s Thunderlegs Vs Drunken Boxing in a fight to the death, two men enter, one man leaves, KUNG FU CITY!
Drunken Master delivers on every single level,. It builds upon, streamlines and surpasses Snake in the Eagles Shadow, to deliver as near perfect a slice of cinematic Kung Fu comedy as has ever been made. This is a team at the very top of their game, from Pproducer Ng See-yuen, who oversaw the production, director Yuen Woo-ping who along with the Yuen Clan (his team of stunt-performers and choreographers, many of whom were actually family members) choreographed the films fight sequences; Korean superkicker Hwang Jan-lee and the one and only Jackie Chan delivering a charming charismatic cool and crazy performance along with showcasing his incredible physicality… and not forgetting the late great Simon Yuen (Yuen Siu-tien) who would see his career go into overdrive too at an advanced age, and play variations of this character for the rest of his life.
The film holds up well… its incredible to think that next year marks its 40th anniversary! The comedy can be broad, but the action and spirit of the film delivers so well. It was a back-to-back double bill of Snake in the Eagles Shadow and Drunken Master that I can blame for my addiction to Hong Kong Cinema. And its still a film I find myself drawn back to again and again. This Blu-ray will be joining multiple versions of this film on everything from the original Rank VHS and Betamax release, the Made in Hong Kong version, the Hong Kong & Japanese laserdisc, various DVD versions and no doubt more to come!
The film’s influence was felt for years to come as all manner of movies copied or followed in its footsteps, with all manner of unofficial sequels and spin-offs from Dance of The Drunk Mantis (known in some territories as Drunken Master 2), World of Drunken Master, through to Jackie Chan’s official sequel Drunken Master 2/Legend of the Drunken Master and Lau Kar-leung’s Drunken Master 3 & Drunken Monkey. (You could also say imply that everything from The Karate Kid through No Retreat No Surrender, Kickboxer, Breakdance the Movie and many more have followed in its footsteps) . Countless films have homaged moments including Protege of the Black Rose (which sees Hong Kong girl group complete with Jackie Chan hairstyles and face pulling paying homage to the training sequences from Snake in the Eagles Shadow and Drunken Master). The Wong Fei-hong theme Under General’s Orders has also become instantly identifiable with Drunken Master and the concept of Drunken Boxing to this day.
Eureka’s version arrives on 24th April with an excellent presentation and some very impressive special features including;
A definitive transfer and 4K digital restoration.
The original complete Cantonese soundtrack as well as alternate English and Mandarin audio tracks.
Newly translated English subtitles.
Video Interviews with Jackie Chan and Yuen Woo-ping.
And a new video appreciation by Director Gareth Evans (The Raid franchise) plus much more!
Unfortunately due to copyright reasons, the original English language Dub track whichintroduced us to ‘Freddie Wong’ as the hero couldn’t be included, although we do get the amusing, if often not for the right reasons, audio commentary by I Am Jackie Chan co-author Jeff Yang and Ric Myers. (Don’t get me started! At one point he does seem to be confusing Snake in the Eagles Shadow and Drunken Master with references to missing scenes and various other observations!) But it’s without a doubt the best presentation of the film in any format as yet, and major respect to Eureka and their team (including Phill Escott) for putting together such a great presentation and wide range of special features. Here’s to seeing Eureka release more examples of classic Hong Kong and Asian Cinema in the not too distant future.