Frequently ranked as one of the greatest martial arts films of all time, Drunken Master revolutionised modern action cinema. It also introduced the world to martial arts superstar Jackie Chan, who burst onto the scene in 1978 with a one-two punch of kung fu masterpieces.
Rather than try to ape Bruce Lee, Chan knew that his skills lay in physical comedy and breathtaking, ingenious moves. Drunken Master, with its slapstick and flawlessly choreographed fights, was his second outing and the one that really showcased his talents.
Chan plays Wong Fei-hung – a legendary Chinese folk hero – who is punished for his frequent troublemaking by being forced to study under the martial arts master Su Hua Chi (Yuen Siu-tien), who is as notorious for his drinking as he is for leaving his students crippled. Wong proves himself to be a keen student, and his new skills are quickly put to the test when his father is targeted by a brutal assassin (Hwang Jang Lee).
In many ways, Drunken Master has all the tropes that you’d expect from a 1970s kung fu movie. Lots of macho posturing, some (very minor) sexism, and car-doors slamming whenever someone is punched. The fun comes when you realise that the Drunken Master actually has to be drunk to be any good at his own ‘secret’ style of kung fu – and much of the humour comes from the Keaton-esque moves that ensure.
Chan and Yuen Siu-tien are never less than entertaining and, while modern audiences might appreciate some faster cuts and less comedic mugging, this is dazzling stuff. Forget The Matrix. This is the real deal. No strings. No SFX. Drunken Master showcases Chan at the hight of his powers – as sure-footed as a goat, and as elastic as Mr Fantastic.
Eureka’s 4K digital transfer comes complete with the original Cantonese soundtrack and alternate English and Mandarin audio options. Interviews with Chan and audio commentaries by Hong Kong film experts, Ric Meyers and Jeff Yang, are both enlightening and entertaining.