Plot: Wong Fei-Hung (Jackie Chan) is the son of a nobleman, but you’d never know it from his disrespectful, troublesome behavior. He likes to stir up chaos and rile people up, but hard work or dedication to martial arts don’t interest him. His father is so tired of his antics that he hires one of the most brutal teachers around, with the hope that the cruel training will turn his son around. His instructor will be the infamous So (Siu Tin Yuen), a drunkard who seems like a simple beggar, but is a master of martial arts and his methods are effective, but horrific. While potential pupils line up to be trained, he rarely takes on a student and when he does, most are injured, maimed, or just run for the hills after a few sessions. Can a slacker like Wong Fei-Hung survive the intense training or will he always be a shiftless layabout?
Entertainment Value: One of the best martial arts movies ever made, Drunken Master is one of those movies that transcended genre and become a culture touchstone, inspiring countless films that followed. This movie has it all, great performances, an effective sense of humor, and almost constant martial arts action, from wild fights to inventive training sequences. The formula is a familiar one, as a strict master tries to sharpen a pupil with great potential, but little dedication, though this never feels like a retread in the least. This is thanks to Jackie Chan’s charismatic performance, the relentless pace, and the focus on humor, which is a nice change of pace from the usual darker, revenge driven narratives. Chan is motivated by payback after he is shamed, but he seems to want to regain his honor and his father’s respect, which is lighter than a violent, vengeance seeking quest would be. This one is packed with action and manages to convey a good amount of exposition through more kinetic scenes, so the pace is brisk and never seems slow in the least. I just have an absolute blast whenever I watch Drunken Master and no matter often I view this one, the humor, charm, and action never fails to entertain.
As always, Chan brings immense charm and charisma to his role here, infusing even the action scenes with his unique brand of humor driven martial arts. His facial expressions alone provide immense entertainment and while he mugs a lot, it suits the comedic tone of the material. He handles all the action scene requirements as usual, with intricate, involved set pieces that showcase his speed, precision, and ability to inject humor into his fights. The master/student relationship between Chan and Siu Tin Yuen is once again immense fun to watch, this time around Yuen is a little more demanding, but the banter is always a good time. The initial restaurant encounter where Chan first encounters him is a classic scene, a wild brawl with some terrific choreography and timing, not to mention humor. If you opt for the English language track, the dialogue is a never ending quote machine of ridiculous, over the top, and sometimes random lines, goofy as hell, but insanely entertaining. But if you don’t want a more “chop socky” approach, tracks in Mandarin and Cantonese are available and while not always as outlandish, there’s still ample humor involved. Drunken Master is a genre classic, an easy recommendation to anyone who appreciates action or martial arts cinema.
The Disc: Twilight Time’s treatment is rock solid, with a well detailed image that has only occasional and inherent softness. The preservation methods on some of these movies wasn’t the best, so being able to see Drunken Master is such a clean, clear presentation is remarkable. Mandarin, Cantonese, and English language tracks are available, as well as optional English subtitles. The extras include an isolated music & effects track, as well as an audio commentary track from Ric Meyers and Jeff Yang, both experts on the genre.