Drunken Master (1978) / Action-Comedy
aka J
ui kuen

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, language and some crude humor (released as R)
Running Time: 107 min.

Cast: Jackie Chan, Simon Yuen, Hwang Jang Lee, Dean Shek, Tyrone Hsu, Linda Lin, Lin Chiao, Casanova Wong
Yuen Woo-ping
Screenplay: Lung Hsiao
Review published December 24, 2005

Drunken Master is a legendary martial arts film for three reasons.  First, it would set the tone for nearly every Jackie Chan (Snake in the Eagle's Shadow, The Young Master) film to follow it, merging slapstick comedy and finely choreographed martial arts into a virtual art form.  The second relates to the fact that it was the first film directed (although released second) by future martial arts genius, Yuen Woo-ping (In the Line of Duty 4, Iron Monkey) , perhaps the best kung fu choreographer of all time.  Lastly, it's just great entertainment, all on its own.

There isn't much of a plot, save to show some adventures during the early days of Chinese folk hero, Wong Fei Hung, before he would become a historic figure.  As depicted in the film, Wong is a mischievous young man that always seems to get himself into hot water, and despite the fact that  his kung fu skills are impressive, he keeps picking fights with people that outmatch him.  Under the tutelage of an old master, Wong soon learns an interesting new fighting style of a drunken boxing master, which he later employs to try to save his father from certain death at the hands of some greedy land speculators.

Despite the lack of a tangible plot, Drunken Master commands your attention through the sheer brilliance of the breathtakingly choreographed fight sequences, any one of them easily worth the price of admission to see.  Also of interest is the comical nature of the film, with some off-the-wall moments that will probably have you laughing just by how strange the conception of them is. 

Jackie Chan is a marvel, showing clearly why he would be destined for action superstar status in the future, although one wonders why it took so long before he became a household name outside of Asia.  Unlike many of his cohorts, who are just as impressive in terms of physical skills, Jackie brings a dimension that makes him a cut above all others to come before him, showing great charisma, comedic timing, and an all-encompassing likeability that keeps you interested in his character, even during the occasional superfluous comedy scene.

Drunken Master isn't really the kind of movie one would ever watch for a gripping storyline or to see some fine acting.  This one's strictly for action fans that like their fighting done with masterful choreography and tongue-in-cheek flair.  Campy, chop-socky 70s action at its finest.

-- Followed by Legend of the Drunken Master and the Chan-less Drunken Master Killer

Qwipster's rating:

2005 Vince Leo