1978, NR, 106 min. Directed by Yuen Wo Ping. Starring Jackie Chan, Yuen Sui Tin.
REVIEWED By Joey O'Bryan, Fri., Aug. 18, 1995
A rare chance to see Jackie Chan's original 1978 kung fu/comedy classic on the big screen where it belongs. The thin story finds Chan turning the legend of real-life folk hero Wong Fei Hung on its ear, playing the famous do-gooder as a rambunctious, bratty youngster always getting into fights. In an attempt to straighten him out, Jackie's father sends him to be disciplined by the titular drunken master, an old beggar who teaches Fei Hung the secrets of “drunken boxing,” a fighting style based upon the staggering movements of drunkards. As directed by Yuen Woo Ping, Drunken Master is basically one long fight sequence, occasionally interrupted by the picture's torturous training set pieces. The chemistry between Chan and legendary Peking Opera actor Simon Yuen, playing his newfound master, continues the charming rapport they shared in their previous hit Snake in the Eagle's Shadow (and, to a far lesser extent, in Chan's first starring vehicle, 1971's mediocre Little Tiger of Canton) and provides one of the most memorable and imitated master/student relationships in the genre. Yuen Woo Ping's direction is wildly energetic, and his fight choreography -- strongly assisted by Jackie, no doubt -- is nothing less than groundbreaking, shamelessly mixing slapstick from crude to clever, along with traditional martial arts stances and acrobatics. He deftly fills his Cinemascope frame with brilliant movement. Undoubtedly, many will snub their noses at the film's lack of plot, and, admittedly, Drunken Master is far from brain food. However, not unlike the silent films of Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd, or for that matter, the best pictures of Hong Kong's Seventies kung fu films, the genius of Drunken Master lies in its kinetics. Pure entertainment, and a true chop-socky classic.