Thursday, 20 April 2017

Drunken Master (1978)

“Lots of Fighting & Lots of Silly”

         Yes indeed, if complex and intricate martial arts mixed with the pratfalls, gurning and silly voices of a typical British sitcom are what you want then DRUNKEN MASTER, Jackie Chan’s second breakthrough picture (following on from the same year’s SNAKE IN EAGLE’S SHADOW) is going to be just the thing for you. Eureka are bringing it out in a dual format Blu-ray and DVD release.

         Chan plays Wong Fei-Hung, (or ‘Freddie’ in the English dub), who keeps getting himself into all kinds of trouble. As punishment, his father sends him to train for a year under the auspices of martial arts master (and wine enthusiast) Su Hua Chi (Yuen Siu-tien). 

         Soon Fei-Hung is being put through the kind of training montage that would become de rigeur for these sorts of pictures but which was still pretty original back in 1978. Eventually Su teaches him the Way of the Eight Drunken Gods, and like the Oliver Reed of martial arts that he (sort of) is, he shows Fei-Hung that you have to be a bit pissed to be able to do it properly.

         Meanwhile, just as we’re beginning to wonder what all that stuff at the beginning has to do with this film, in which villainous assassin-for-hire Thunderleg (Jang Lee Hwang) has a dual to the death with his latest target, up he pops to give Fei-Hung a good slapping, before being given his latest commission - to bump off our hero’s father! Cue more training followed by intricately choreographed, well-shot, brightly lit smackdown in an attractive rural area. The End.

         If you can put up with the silly bits (and be warned there are a lot of them) DRUNKEN MASTER deserves its reputation as a great martial arts film and a fabulous showcase for the unique talents of its rising star. Chan is never less than likeable, and Yuen Siu-Tien is enjoyably crazy as his mentor.
         Eureka’s disc comes with some decent extras, including Cantonese, Mandarin and English dialogue tracks. The Cantonese is probably the best, while the English certainly adds to the feeling that this was made on a planet where they only have an approximate idea of how people speak and act. There’s also a 2002 commentary track with Ric Meyers and Jeff Yang. Check out the subtitle options, because while one is exactly what you might expect, the other gives you the kind of poorly translated (and utterly hilarious) experience you might have enjoyed on DRUNKEN MASTER's original release in the Westerm world.

    There are some good video interviews with Jackie Chan and director Yuen Woo-Ping, and good video appreciations by Gareth THE RAID Evans and Tony Rayns. Finally, if you’re like me and don’t know an awful lot about this subgenre of cinema, Michael Brooke supplies an excellent essay in the accompanying booklet that helps contextualise DRUNKEN MASTER in the history of Hong Kong cinema. A great package.

DRUNKEN MASTER is out from Eureka in a dual format edition on Monday 24th April 2017

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