Friday, March 14, 2008

Drunken Master

The Action Mutant…
is waiting for “The Slightly Constipated Master!”


Drunken Master

review by Joe Burrows


Perspective:
You know, my dad was a great drunken fighter. Though, he didn’t know martial arts. Even though he watched a lot of martial arts movies. Probably ran across a Jackie Chan film or two on WNUV Ch. 54 in Baltimore during the 2 a.m. Kung Fu feature. Even though not many in America knew of Jackie at the time. But man, my dad could drunken fight. Makes me wonder if he was really Irish. Or if I’m really Irish. However, this perspective does explain why I’m not writing for a legit publication right now. Must be the drunken writing.

The Plot, as it was:
Chan plays the legendary Wong Fei-Hung, at this point a mischievous student always getting into trouble. After a confrontation with a respected land developer’s son, Wong’s father has enough and sends the boy to be trained by Su Hua Chi (Siu Tien Yuen), a drunken kung fu master infamous for torturing his prodigies. After a while, Wong decides he’s had enough of the training but afterwards is humiliated by an assassin called Thunderleg (Jang Lee Hwang). Wong realizes he must master the eight Drunken God Styles in order to avenge his humiliation and to help his father in defending against the land baron.

Don’t shoot me…I’m only the reviewer!:
To put it simply, this was the film that made Jackie Chan’s career. Before this, he was simply the lead in a series of badly made Kung Fu films done by hack director Lo Wei. When Wei lent Chan out to Seasonal Film Corp. for this film, he had no idea of the success it (and its star) would become. Watching the final product, it’s easy to see what the fuss is about. Chan’s second collaboration with director Yuen Woo-Ping (Snake & the Eagle’s Shadow being the first) produces some of the most wholly intricate martial artistry in film history. Practically 75% of the film is all action and you’re almost asking for room to breathe from the very little down time in between fight scenes. The comedy is also a physical and visual smorgasbord, with Jackie being put through countless tests and situations that let him go really loose with his childish nature. Some of the fights in the middle do seem tacked on just to pad out the running time but it’s all forgiven with the near 15 minute finale between Wong and Thunderleg. There are really too many great moments to count and the delightful presence of Siu Tien Yuen (one in a long line of drunken Kung Fu masters) make this one of the best films of the genre.

Body Count/Violence: 2. This is all about the art of the fight, not gratuitous bloodshed or violence. Wong uses all kinds of unlikely weapons in his battles, not limited to workbenches, hammers, chopsticks and even zucchini! There are also torturous training scenes (love the sake cup one) that are used for 100% comic effect.

Sexuality/Nudity: Not here.

Language/Dialogue: Not strong but crude enough to be picked up by little ones who revel in toilet humor. Lots of derivatives of “shit” and “ass” but nothing coarse enough to make it unwatchable.

How bad was it?:
Most Chan fans list this as their favorite (then again, they list Project A, Police Story and Drunken Master II as their favorites, too) but it mostly depends if old school Kung Fu/comedy is really their cup of sake. Most critics agree this is the standard bearer of Kung Fu comedy, even if it wasn’t the first one of its kind.

Did it make the studio’s day?:
Released on 10/5/78 in Hong Kong by Seasonal Films, Drunken Master was the second highest grosser in that land that year, earning about $8 million. Though never given wide release in the U.S., it was given its customary West Coast release in 1979 and 1989. It was released on DVD in America by then Columbia/TriStar in 2002.

Film: ****1/2/*****
Entertainment value: *****/*****

Copyright 2007 The Action Mutant.

2 comments:

Ekan said...

"Most Chan fans list this as their favorite (then again, they list Project A, Police Story and Drunken Master II as their favorites, too)"

I don't think that many Jackie Chan fans list this as their favorite actually. It's very seldom I see DM on the top of any list of that kind. And what do you mean by saying that they list those movies? Project A, Police Story and DM2 are definitely among Jackie's top work. Don't you agree?

Joe Burrows said...

I kind of had the inclination that Drunken Master was highly rated amongst Chan's films but I could be mistaken. He certainly surpassed DM in standards of action with his later efforts, which probably leads to it being rated lower on lists.

As for the other comment, I meant that Project A, Police Story and Drunken Master II can also be #1 on Chan fans' list. He has so many master works that any of those films could be #1. Ask ten Jackie Chan fans what their favorite JC flick is and you'll probably get about 5 different answers.