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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Drunken Master (1978)

"I am drunk with inner strength."
- Fei Hung (Jackie Chan)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: April 24, 2002

Stars: Jackie Chan, Yuen Hsiao Teng, Huang Cheng Li
Other Stars: Shih Tien, Hsu Hsia, Lin Ying
Director: Yuen Wo Ping

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild language and martial arts violence)
Run Time: 01h:51m:10s
Release Date: April 02, 2002
UPC: 043396083905
Genre: martial arts

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B-B-C+ A

DVD Review

In the world of Hong Kong martial arts cinema, Jackie Chan's 1978 Drunken Master stands as one of the seminal releases in the genre. Not only is it full of rapid-fire kung-fu choreography, but it also features a steady layer of humor (much of it pure slapstick), which was a relatively new element in these chop-socky epics. Originally entitled Zui Quan, and alternately Drunken Monkey in the Tiger's Eyes, Drunken Master was directed by Yuen Wo Ping, a man who may not be a household name, but one whose work has been seen by millions; he would eventually become the fight coordinator for The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

The vague storyline is really nothing more than a loose nail on which to hang a series of truly impressive fight sequences, most featuring Chan (here billed as Jacky). It's all about redemption and revenge, and centers on Fei Hung (Chan), the high-spirited son of a local martial arts legend, who one day does battle with a local tough guy and ends up putting the thug in a body cast. Fei Hung's shamed father orders his son to then be tutored by a crazy uncle, Su Hua Chi (Yuen Hsiao Tieng), who has a reputation as an extremely harsh, if not downright crazy, taskmaster; Su Hua Chi is the master of "drunken" fighting, a strange form of kung-fu that is best performed under the influence of a few nips of alcohol. Fei Hung is eventually forced to learn the ways of drunken fighting to redeem himself and save his family honor, and of course battle the evil Thunderleg (Huang Cheng Li) in a climactic match.

As with most films of the era, this one is noticeably low on production values, with much of the action taking place outdoors. Regardless, the fight scenes—a superb blend of ballet and martial arts—look terrific, especially under the umbrella of the new Columbia TriStar 2.35:1 widescreen transfer. Even with the film's minimalistic look, Chan's natural energy and charisma really come through, and anyone can easily see that he would go on to become an international star. His training scenes, under the tutelage of Su Hua Chi, feature some simply remarkable feats of agility, and his comedic touches lend a real sense of humility and realism to his character.

Today, the jaw-dropping fighting seen in Drunken Master could easily be accomplished by wires, which would later be conveniently removed via digital editing (see Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, for example). It is important to remember that this film was done in the pre-digital days, and viewers need to realize that all of the action, save a couple of obvious reverses, are done in-camera. Most of the fights avoid MTV-style quick-cuts, and instead focus on extended single takes involving upwards of fifteen to twenty punches before a cut.

This is not a slick Rush Hour Jackie Chan product, and may probably disappoint Chan fans who discovered him in the last few years. Yet Drunken Master is a far rawer, more natural vehicle designed to let him showcase an array of well-orchestrated kung-fu skills and physical abilities.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen print from Columbia TriStar should really please the faithful, as an earlier Hong Kong release featured an iffy, marginal transfer that trimmed the edges from much of the signature fight sequences. Not that the image quality is flawless, because it is certainly not; age has softened the colors slightly, and there are a large number of flecks and specks across most of the print, as well as some flicker. The remastering job is respectable, considering the age of the film, and Columbia TriStar should get a pat on the back for coming up with what is probably the cleanest print of Drunken Master on disc today.

The best news is that the transfer is 2.35:1, which allows the full scope of Chan's elaborate choreography to be enjoyed as it was intended.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Cantoneseyes

Audio Transfer Review: It's really hard to say anything overly positive about the two mono tracks provided here (one in Cantonese, the other in English); both are horribly flat and lifeless. Not surprising, I guess. The mediocre English dub is particularly harsh sounding. Dialogue, whether Cantonese or English, has a tendency to clip slightly, too. All of the kicks and punches sound like over-amplified pieces of balsa wood cracking, and is more than a little distracting. Purists might argue that this is part of the charm of the early Hong Kong martial arts titles, but it still doesn't make it any more enjoyable to hear.

There is a minor audio problem where the Cantonese track changes randomly to English a few times. I understand that Columbia Tristar found sections of the Cantonese audio unusable and the English dub was inserted in its place, so technically it doesn't really "switch."

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, Thai with remote access
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Time And Tide, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by Ric Meyers, Jeff Yang
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The lack of abundant extras is more than made up in quality. The full-length, scene-specific commentary by Hong Kong film expert Ric Meyers (author of Great Martial Arts Movies) and Jeff Yang (co-author of the autobiography I Am Jackie Chan:My Life in Action) is far and away one of the better tracks I have heard in a long, long time. I'm not what you would classify as an expert on the subject of Hong Kong cinema and its origins, but Meyers and Yang deliver a steady and fact-filled stream of technical and historical information, all with a fairly high energy level (this is not one of those dry historian-type commentaries). I actually learned quite a bit about the genre in general, as well as the various actors (including Jackie Chan), directors, stunt coordinators, and the comments of Meyers and Yang added significantly to my overall enjoyment and appreciation of Drunken Master.

There are 28 chapters, subtitles (English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, Thai), and two trailers (Time And Tide, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon).

Extras Grade: A


Final Comments

As a story, it is a rather loose tale of revenge, honor and family; in all honesty, it's very predictable and one-dimensional. What really makes this a great piece of filmmaking is the beautifully choreographed fight sequences, aided by the slapstick antics of Jackie Chan.

If you're new to the genre, I suggest you listen to the commentary while watching the film with the English subtitles. It's educational AND entertaining.


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