Drunken Master


When Jackie Chan and Woo Ping Yuen released Snake In The Eagle’s Shadow onto an unsuspecting public back in 1978, it was only to the the opening salvo of a two-pronged attack that would make its (almost) indestructible star a household name.
Hot on the heels of that Kung Fu comedy that saw its star kill a man by striking him in the balls with a death blow and defeating the final boss with a fighting style inspired by the motions of an ill-tempered cat, Yuen and Chan’s follow up would see the endlessly endearing lead adopt yet another outlandish style in order to crush his enemies, but this one would end up being the far more iconic of the two.
So sit back, pour yourself a drink, then pour yourself another one – and then drink every bit of damn alcohol you have in the house, because it’s time to meet the Drunken Master and learn a whole new meaning two the phrase “Getting Smashed”.


Wong Fei-hung is the son of a prominent martial arts teacher, but that hasn’t stopped him from being an absolute pain in the ass to those he deems worthy of mischievously humiliating. However, after making fools of various stuck up martial arts teachers and a couple of woman who turns out to be his Aunt and Cousin, Wong’s entitled shenanigans finally catch up with him when the bully he beats up turns out to be the son of big wheel about town. Sick of his son’s shit, Wong’s father decides to punish him by making him train with Beggar So, a notoriously strict trainer of Kung Fu who has a legendary track record of leaving weaker students in a worse condition than when he found them and Wong, responsibility-free brat that he is, flees.
However, as Wong continues to get up to well-meaning, Kung Fu mischief, Beggar So catches up to him and eventually makes him his student, putting the arrogant young punk through a regime that’s more strenuous than a training montage from a Rocky movie – but, once again, Wong chooses to do a runner when things get too tough.
The young man learns an even more brutal life-lesson when he runs into Yim Tit-sam (more impressively known in some other versions as Thunderfoot) a hired killer who’s fighting style of the “Devil’s Kick” has never been defeated and after a humiliating beating, Wong runs back to Beggar So to finish his training.
Wong is finally shown the ways of The Eight Drunken Immortals, a form of Drunken Boxing that gets even more formidable if the fighter is hammered off their tits on wine and it’s about time too, because Yim Tit-sam’s next hired kill is Wong’s very own father!


A more dismissive viewer could look at Drunken Master as simply a more confident retread of Jackie Chan and Woo Ping Yeun’s earlier collaboration, Snake In The Eagle’s Shadow, but couldn’t the same be said of Evil Dead II, or Mad Max: Fury Road or the Raid II, three examples of visionary directors taking advantage of familiar scenarios in order to refine and hone their singular concept.
Of course, the concept Yeun and Jackie are trying to perfect is that of the embryonic, bottled lightning that is the living special effect we all came to know and love as Chan’s comedic timing. While we’re still a few years away of the God-tier levels of Police Story or the deranged, violent prat falling of Dragons Forever, or even Drunken Master’s own sequel, this is still an effortlessly seminal moment in martial arts cinema. Taking virtually every aspect of Snake In The Eagle’s Shadow – including its two stars Chan and Yuen’s actual father, Siu-Tin Yeun – and improving on it, Drunken Master proves to be funnier, more exciting and noticably more polished than its predecessor but the true jewel in the crown here is, unsurprisingly, Chan himself. Honing his razor edged comic timing with a body yet unravaged by decades of heroically irresponsible stunt work, Jackie excels in both bringing his incredible physically to the table and fusing it with one of the likable personas action cinema has ever witnessed. Watching him him do smomach obliterating sit ups while hanging upside down and transferring water from different buckets with insanely tiny cups looks so ludicrously punishing, it gave me secondary abs of steel just by watching and his various fights, be they having him mimicking the style of a chittering monkey or staggering around as pissed as Oliver Reed at the taping of a chat show and while some of the fights are admittedly somewhat extraneous to the plot (you could remove the entire Iron Head and King Of Sticks encounters and not honestly miss much if I’m being honest), the winding, almost rudderless path of the meandering story is all part of the charm when it comes to Hong Kong martial arts.


And yet it’s exactly this established set of filmmaking rules that Chan was dedicated to updating by fusing more modern sensibilities to an acquainted studio system to birth his particular style into the mainstream. Even though a lot of the Kung Fu rules are still evident (irresponsible student, warring fighting styles, period setting) the pace is greatly ramped up, the humor is forefront and the breathless Kung Fu pushes against the boundaries of what could be done. The humourous beats are just as, if not more, important than the actual beatings and its what pumps a very real sense of personality into the numerous brawls without them becoming exhaustingly samey. Yes, Wong fighting off the attacks of Iron Head by belting him about his inpenetrable skull with a hammer is awesome (even down to the grotesque, Popeye-style bumps that form on his battered cranium) and yes, Wong twirling the hammer triumphantly around his body is cool, but what really makes the moment memorable is how much Chan sells it when his overconfident revels abrubtly end with a self delivered hammer blow clean in the solar plexus. Similarly, the final brawl where Wong is blatantly five sheets to the wind and progressively getting drunker by the second as he locks fists with Thunderfoot may quite possibly be the most iconic moment of the actor’s pre-Police Story career as he hits a lurching stance that fitting straddles the line between goofy, Chaplin-esque physical humour and stone cold action cool that signifies its iconic innovator in a virtually perfect nutshell.


Tee totalers may recoil in horror, but Drunken Master hits the senses just as hard as its leads hit the hooch.


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