Cult Movie: Jackie Chan's kung fu classic, Drunken Master

The chemistry between Jackie Chan and Yuen Siu-tien as master feels genuine in kung fu classic Drunken Master
Ralph McLean

Drunken Master

IF YOU wanted to show just a single, solitary piece of work to someone who'd never seen a Jackie Chan film in their life – a stand-alone movie encapsulating the man's genius for full-blown martial arts mayhem and old- school physical mugging – then Drunken Master would have to be the one.

From the peerless fighting technique and logic-defying stuntwork to the Buster Keaton indebted knack for beautifully judged slapstick comedy, everything that made Chan an instant kung fu king when the film arrived in 1978 and everything that continues to make him the true godfather of martial arts action movies is here just waiting to be enjoyed once again.

Generally considered one of the finest martial arts films ever made at the time, Drunken Master changed the rules for modern Asian action movies – and the brand new Masters of Cinema Series Blu-ray and DVD Dual-format edition release from Eureka reveals it has lost little of its revolutionary power over the passing decades.

Much more than a masterclass from Chan, this is also a pioneering effort from director Yuen Woo-Ping. Together, the duo would rock the martial arts world with first Snake In The Eagle's Shadow and then this perfectly formed little non-stop fight fest.

Once Drunken Master had been unleashed upon the world, Asian action films would never be the same again.

Immaculately choreographed and imbued with a silly but seriously charming sense of the absurd, this is the perfect match of martial arts majesty and old-fashioned prat-falling comedy.

This is the yardstick by which all other high-kicking action movies and old-school physical comedies should be judged.

Chan is Wong Fei-hung, the son of a martial arts legend who is punished for his anti-social ways by being sent to study under Su Hua Chi (Yuen Siu-tien), a figure infamous for his wild boozing as much as he is for leaving his students practically crippled from their martial arts exertions.

Wong proves himself a fine pupil and a quick learner who gets to grips with his tutor's training in Drunken Boxing, a fast, fluid skill, with impressive ease after losing a fight to a ruthless assassin called Thunderleg (Hwang Jang Lee) who is targeting his father.

Under Yuen Woo Ping's direction, and doubtless Chan's similarly inspired guidance, Drunken Master is basically one endless fight scene that is lightened by moments of natural comic charm and occasionally interrupted by torturous training set pieces.

The chemistry between Chan as student and Yuen Siu-tien as master feels genuine – they'd shared a similar rapport in Snake In The Eagle's Shadow and even worked together on Chan's first starring vehicle Little Tiger Of Canton in 1971 – and there's a natural quality to their time on screen that is hugely impressive.

Plot-wise, the film offers little – but it's Chan's on screen dynamism, his talent for utterly outrageous stunts (always performed by the star himself, of course) and his uniquely easy way with a comic look amidst the mayhem that makes this special.

There is nothing particularly deep or mystical about this tale of honour and learning, but it's a seriously fun ride that sets the bar for all the many imitations that would arrive in the years which followed.

In short, this is a kung fu masterpiece given a suitably lavish make over from Eureka. Few films deserve such treatment more.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access