Directed By: Yuen Woo-Ping
Starring: Jackie Chan, Siu Tin Yuen, Jang Lee Hwang
Line from this film: "All students with style must learn how to fall"
Trivia: Once was the highest-grossing Chinese film in South Korea
With his uncanny ability to blend action and humor, Jackie Chan has been entertaining audiences around the world for decades (he’s one of a handful of performers to have stars on both the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the Hong Kong Avenue of Stars). After working as a stuntman on several films in the early ‘70s (including Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon), Chan hit the big time as an actor in 1978 when he appeared in two movies directed by Yuen Woo-Ping, the second of which, Drunken Master, catapulted him to the forefront of Hong Kong cinema (his first picture that year, titled Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow, was also a hit). Playing folk hero Wong Fei-Hung (one of the few times this historic character was portrayed with a comedic bent), Chan relies on his physical prowess throughout Drunken Master while, at the same time, establishing his position as the Clown Prince of Kung Fu.
A student in a martial arts school run by his father Kei-ying (Lam Kau), Wong Fei-Hung often allows his precocious nature to get the better of him. But when he inadvertently insults his Aunt (Linda Lin) and cousin (Tong Jing), then thrashes the son (Tino Wong) of wealthy aristocrat Mr. Li (Fung Ging) in a fight, a frustrated Kei-ying sends his son off to be trained by the legendary Beggar So (Yuen Siu-Tien), a master in the art of Drunken Boxing. With Beggar So’s help, Wong Fei-Hung learns the ways of “The Eight Drunken Gods”, but will his newfound abilities be enough to save his father from the notorious assassin, Thunderleg (Hwang Jang Lee), who’s been hired to kill Kei-ying so that his rival, Mr. Li, can seize control of the entire area.
Yuen Siu-Tien gets a few laughs as the oft-inebriated Beggar-So, who, despite his advanced age, can still kick some ass (unable to handle the intense action scenes, Yuen Siu-Tien was doubled by, among others, the film’s director, Yuen Woo-Ping). But more than anything, Drunken Master is a showcase for Jackie Chan's unique talents. One moment, he’s making us laugh by clowning around in his father’s class, and the next he’s beating the hell out of Mr. Li’s son (a later scene, where Wong Fei-Hung tries to trick a restaurant owner into giving him a free meal, is also a lot of fun). Chan’s “finest hour”, though, is undoubtedly the scene in which his Wong Fei-Hung, drunk as can be, demonstrates the 8 different styles of the “Drunken Gods”, a sequence that utilizes his comedic timing as much as it does his skills as a fighter.
Drunken Master was a box office smash in Hong Kong, raking in over HK $6 million and inspiring a number of direct sequels (including 1994’s The Legend of Drunken Master, also starring Chan), and even a few imitators (like Gordon Liu’s 1982 flick The Shaolin Drunken Monk). Still, in spite of the film’s success, it would take Jackie Chan more than a decade to finally make it big in Hollywood (1995’s Rumble in the Bronx was his first hit in this country). And if you’re a fan of movies like Shanghai Noon and the Rush Hour series, you’ll want to catch up with Drunken Master at some point as well, if, for no other reason, than to see it’s star in an early role, doing what he does best.