Although it took a decade and a half for American and International audiences to warm to the amazing talents of Hong Kong action legend Jackie Chan, much of the foundation for his later success (from Rumble in the Bronx via the Rush Hour trilogy and the Karate Kid remake) can be glimpsed in Drunken Master, Chan's seminal classic, which lays the groundwork and fight style that was seen in his later successes.
It was clear from the outset that uncertainty and a lack of clarity was always going to hinder Chan's efforts to break into the mainstream and cross-over realm. His first American film, 1980's The Big Brawl (aka Battlecreek Brawl) was touted by Warner Bros as a hopeful attempt to recreate the success of their earlier release, Enter The Dragon, right down to being directed by Robert Clouse. His second, James Glickenhaus' The Protector (1985), was tainted by conflicts between Chan and the director, to the extent that the film, according to some online reports, was re-edited by Chan for Hong Kong release (and re-made of sorts) as Police Story.
Between the two, he co-starred alongside an all-star cast, including Burt Reynolds and Roger Moore, in 1981's The Cannonball Run, a fast and silly tale of an illicit road race across Continental America, where Chan demonstrated his talents in a sequence where he aids his fellow Cannonballers when they are caught up in a fight with Hell's Angels (led by Peter Fonda). Chan steals the show in this brief, effective sequence.
However, the real story of Chan's path to greatness began in 1978, firstly with Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow, and then with Drunken Master. Chan is credited strangely on the film as 'Jacky Chan' (perhaps a error on the part of the post-production credit-house). That error of syntax aside, there is nothing to fault here.
Drunken Master is the tale of Wong Fei-Hung, a troublemaker who shows his initial colours, firstly by unknowingly making a pass at his visiting cousin and amusingly rebuffed by his aunt, before picking a fight with a local hooligan. Ashamed of his behaviour, his father decides to recruit the services of wine-loving Martial Arts master Beggar So (Yuen Siu-tien) to guide his son to a great plateau of spiritual awareness….
From the very opening of the film, the film doesn't waste any time getting into the heart of the action and slapstick comedy, coupled with some wonderfully witty verbal exchanges. Drunken Master retains that traditional Eastern storyline of honour and vengeance with a lightness of touch that helps the audience focus on the superbly choreographed fight sequences (held together efficiently by Chinese action legend Yuen Woo-Ping, who lent his name to the likes of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Matrix)
Eureka Entertainment are releasing Drunken Master as part of a dual-format Blu-Ray and DVD Special Edition within their 'Masters Of Cinema' series and it provides a golden opportunity to watch the film in it's little-seen original Cantonese with English Subtitles dub. Fans who lapped up the recent Blu-Ray release of The Bruce Lee Master Collection will certainly be chomping at the bit to watch another vintage Jackie Chan classic - and we wouldn't be surprised if the Rush Hour crowd decide to buy a copy or two.
DRUNKEN MASTER (1978) / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: YUEN WOO-PING / SCREENPLAY: YUEN WOO-PING, NG SEE-YUEN, LUNG HSIAO / STARRING: JACKIE CHAN, YUEN SIU-TIEN, HWANG JANG-LEE / RELEASE DATE: 24TH APRIL