Plot: What’s it about?
He might be the son of a martial arts school master, but young Wong Fei-Hung (Jackie Chan) still behaves like a lout most of the time. He likes to cause trouble in his classes, harass young ladies in the marketplace, get into fights to showcase his talents, and all sorts of other hijinks, much to his father’s dismay. His father wants him to learn to harness his skills, gain some self discipline, and become a good man, but all he worries about his having fun and living in the moment. But when one of his stunts lands him in serious trouble with his father, he learns that the normal punishments won’t be enough, not this time. His fate this time leads right to the legendary trainer Sam Seed, a sadistic mentor who also happens to be Wong’s uncle. He tries to flee the town before Sam can find him, but he winds up running into him, which is good, since the old man saves his behind in a diner clash over an unpaid bill. But can even Sam manage to turn around this hellfire of a derelict, perhaps even teach him enough to be able to battle a rival who seeks to kill Wong’s father?
This is one awesome movie, with excellent fight scenes, wicked training sessions, a terrific premise, tons of outlandish humor, and of course, the presence of Jackie Chan. In fact, I would say this ranks as one of my favorite films of all time, not just in terms of martial arts cinema either, Drunken Master is simply that enjoyable. No, it won’t spark your brain into deep thought or anything, but it is a well made and very entertaining film, no doubt about it. The movie is able to blend humor and martial arts to sheer perfection, being silly and outrageous, but always within reason, the laughs never have to be forced here. Some of the dialogue is kind of low brow, but it works well and since the central character is pretty obnoxious at first, it seems appropriate. As if the hilarious moments weren’t enough, you’ll find some superb fight oriented scenes here too, of both battle and training varieties, all well crafted. This is the kind of movie that appeals to all fans of cinema, so don’t be scared off by the martial arts themes. I believe Drunken Master is the first disc released under Destination Films banner, which seems to hold a lot of promise for the future. I found this to be a superb disc, from the transfer to extras to packaging, a fine treatment for this great movie. I commend Destination for their work here and other studios should take note, especially places like Dimension, who seem to think Asian films won’t sell with the original language and run time intact.
I don’t know if Drunken Master is his finest overall film, but Jackie Chan sure does shine here and really drives home a terrific motion picture. His performance is over the top, hilarious, and outlandish, but also dead on, he plays the role just as he needs to. He is able to pull off all the needed facial expressions, mannerisms, and such to make the humor work, which is important, since he is the central worker in Drunken Master. But of course, he is also able to showcase his skills in the martial arts realm and in he seems in top form here, especially in terms of physical stature, as he is ripped & ruthless here. I know a lot of people prefer Drunken Master II (aka Legend of the Drunken Master), but I think this is a wilder, more energetic picture, though the sequel is also excellent, no doubt it. You can also see Chan in such films as Police Story, Armour of God, Mr. Nice Guy, Rumble in the Bronx, and Armour of God II: Operation Condor.
Video: How does it look?
Drunken Master is presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. I’ve owned a few different DVD editions of this movie and this one is the only one to have the correct, full scope aspect ratio intact. The import Hong Kong Legends versions is restored and looks very clean, but is cropped to 1.78:1, which is bad news. The print here looks as clean as the HKL edition, but as with that release, some flaws still remain behind, though only small ones. I mean, this is an older movie made for next to nothing and in terms of expectations, this transfer surpassed all of mine and is the finest DVD edition out there. The colors are bright & natural, flesh tones look normal, and contrast is well balanced, not much else we would want here. So yes, the print has some flaws, but nothing serious and in the end, this is an excellent overall treatment.
Audio: How does it sound?
The audio option of choice here is a Cantonese mono track, which offers little flash, but handles the material well enough. As expected, the music and sound effects sometimes come off as restrained, but never to the point of distraction. And in this case, the audio is a little off kilter due to how the film was made, so this will never sound like a new release, even with the newest audio techniques in application. The dialogue is as clean as can be expected, which means it is a little rough at times, but more than acceptable. This disc also includes an English language option, as well as subtitles in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Korean, and Thai. A special note, I found that some lines were in English in the Cantonese version and vice-versa, so I am not sure what to make of that in this case.
Supplements: What are the extras?
An audio commentary is the sole extra here, but it is a good one and features martial arts cinema expert Ric Myers and, co-author of several Asian cinema related books. The two offer a lot of background on the film and genre on the whole, with all kinds of information on the stars and crew members also thrown in. This is an upbeat, chatty overall session and is well worth a listen, as both men know their stuff, to be sure.