Drunken Master [Zui quan] (1978) Review

For me Drunken Master is a very important film and the reasons are rooted in a variety of sources. Back in the day when I was at school myself and Zombie1 devoured all sorts of cinema from 80’s action classics to cult horror to Manga to Kung Fu and we tried to watch as much of all of them as we could.

This ended up being harder than you might think as you must remember this is a world pre-internet, pre-Blu-ray, pre-DVD where the only way to see films was on VHS either bought or rented from Blockbusters or on TV and as I didn’t have Sky that meant only 5 channels. Luckily for me on the 24th of May 1997 BBC Two showed Kung-Fu Night which I watched and recorded on my tiny TV in my room and gave me a whole new appreciation of the genre.

Hosted by Pink Panther actor Burt Kwouk it was an evening of martial arts delights with a programme on the rise in popularity of the Kung Fu films in the UK, a guide to the best villains, heroes and fights, an episode of Monkey, Bruce Lee’s amazing Enter the Dragon and most interestingly for me Tim Westwood presenting a compilation of rap videos inspired by Kung Fu.

I loved hip hop especially the Wu-Tang Clan who were massively inspired by martial arts movies and in repetitively listening to not only there first album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) but the raft of solo albums each member made I became obsessed with tracing each sample and reference to its filmic source.

Thus began a new mission of collecting and consuming as many of the Wu-Tang inspiring Kung Fu films as I could including Drunken Master which I obtained while I was at University. The 1978 classic was the inspiration for many tracks especially by Ol Dirty Bastard who even fought using the Drunken style in the PlayStation beat ‘em up Wu-Tang: Taste the Pain which I spent many, many hours playing at Uni too.

Considering the plot revolves around lovable rouge Wong Fei-Hung played by the legendary Jackie Chan in one of his first ever roles who learns a special style of fighting based around The Eight Drunken Immortals it had a particular appeal to me and my mates at the time who became convinced if we watched it enough and drank enough we could pull off some of Chan’s moves.

Revisiting the film again in this definitive dual-format edition from Masters of Cinema Series packed with some excellent extras and informative commentary it brought back some great memories and I have to admit although the disc contains various original languages I went straight for the dubbed version through force of habit to how I originally saw all these films.

What shines through even over the non-lip synched lines is the sheer talent of Jackie Chan not only in for his physical fighting and the torturous training sequences he is put through by the always half cut Su Hus Chi, aka Beggar So aka Sam Seed played by Yuen Siu-tien, but his completely original combination of Kung Fu and slapstick comedy which became the trademark of his still active career.

Whether mocking his moaning trainer while practicing animal styles or joking around during a fight with a local thug or parodying Drunken Miss Ho’s fighting form which he refuses to learn Chan is a charming and likable hero you can’t help but root for even if in this film he brings most of the misery and chaos on himself.

The drama comes in the form of Wong Fei-Hung’s confrontation with evil assassin played by Hwang Jang Lee a deadly expert who not only defeats him but humiliates and shames him forcing him to crawl through his legs and run away in anger and dishonor.

This sets up not only an epic training scene where Chan learns and perfects the Drunken Fist style in one of the best scenes of the film but also a brilliant climatic battle between him and his thunder footed foe which is one of the best fights of the film.

Steaming along director Yuen Woo-ping, who went on to direct, act and co-ordinate fights on a ton more movies including Kill Bill Vol 2, never gives the audience a chance to be bored moving from fight to laugh to peril and back again continually with never a dull moment.

A hugely important film not only in changing modern action cinema but in bringing forth Jackie Chan one of the greatest and most popular martial arts stars ever, Drunken Master is most definitely one of the best martial arts movies of all time and I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise, just let me get a drink first!

Movie Rating: ★

★ ★ ★ ☆ 



Alex Humphrey

Alex studied film at the University of Kent and went on to work for Universal Pictures in their Post Room gaining an inside look at the movie industry from the very bottom. Constantly writing reviews in everything from local magazines to Hip Hop sites Alex honed his critical skills even spending a brief period as a restaurant critic. Read more

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