Review: Drunken Master (1978)

>> Wednesday, February 7, 2007

HK/C-111 m./Dir: Woo-ping Yuen/Wr: Hsiao Lung, See-Yuen Ng, & Woo-ping Yuen/Cast: Jackie Chan (Wong Fei-Hung), Yuen Siu Tien (Su Hua-Chi), Hwang Jang Lee (Thunderleg)

If asked to name the greatest boozing action hero in cinematic history, most people would answer without hesitation “Bond, James Bond.” However, they’d be dead wrong. Mr. “Shaken not stirred” has done little over the course of his first twenty films to earn his 100 proof reputation. Let’s face it; 007 is a cocktail sipper at best.

Wong Fei-Hung, on the other hand, is a champion with a heroic capacity for alcohol to match his fearless attitude in the face of danger. This legendary Chinese folk hero had been depicted in numerous films before Jackie Chan offered an inebriated take on the character with 1978’s Drunken Master. Actually, the drunken master of the title is Fei-Hung’s uncle, Su Hua-Chi (Yuen Siu Tien), a renowned martial arts master and wino, to whom the young Fei-Hung is sent as a punishment after disgracing his family. Under the old man’s tutelage, Fei-Hung learns the secrets of drunken boxing, a style of Kung Fu that imitates the groggy motions of a lush. This method of fighting is most powerful if the user first gets pig-stinkin’ drunk, just as Popeye is at his most potent with a stomach full of spinach. Of course, Fei-Hung is only too happy to adhere to the booze-makes-you-stronger rule of battle. With this new knowledge and a bellyful of 100 proof wine, Wong Fei-Hung saves his family from a hired assassin and emerges as a new drunken master.

It may be difficult for today’s audiences to understand how this modest kung-fu comedy propelled Jackie Chan to superstardom. Compared to his chock-socky classics from the 1980’s, the action sequences in Drunken Master appear slow and stagy, and the comedy rarely rises above the level of “juvenile.” However, at the time of the flick’s original release, this mixture of martial arts, comedy, and hyper-powered hooch was something new and exciting in Hong Kong cinema. Drunken Master not only made Jackie Chan a star, it spawned numerous copycat films and semi-sequels. It also laid the groundwork for Jackie Chan’s greatest kung-fu epic, 1994’s Drunken Master II!

Drinks Consumed--White Wine (standard & 100 proof)

Intoxicating Effects--Staggering, passing out, the shakes, hiccups, public disturbance, destruction of property, and physical violence

Potent Quotables
--Su Hua-Chi: To study my style, you’ll find it easier if you have a drink first.

Video Availability--Drunken Master DVD (Columbia/Tri-Star)

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Yuen Siu Tien returned to the part of Su Hua-Chi for Dance of the Drunk Mantis (1979), Story of the Drunken Master (1979), and World of the Drunken Master (1979). However, Jackie Chan didn't return to the role of Wong Fei-Hung until 1994’s Drunken Master II (a.k.a. The Legend of Drunken Master).


Anonymous February 7, 2007 at 8:09 PM  

Might I just add, that this is a must see for everyone. I was way too cool for Kung-fu movies and Jackie Chan before I saw this one, but I was sold right off, and I've been a die-hard fan ever since.

The sequel is very slightly better (in the sense that, yeah, it's a bit less 70ish), but both a complete masterpieces.

I read somewhere that Wong Fei-Hung is the post portrayed person in movies and TV. Hard to believe that he's more portrayed than Jesus, but it might just be true.

bigsoda February 7, 2007 at 9:39 PM  

I'd say that both together are the "Lord of the Rings" of alcoholic Kung Fu movies...

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I like to drink. I like to watch movies. I like to watch movies about drinking. I like to write about the movies I’ve watched, but only if I’ve had a drink first.

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