Drunken Master
"Martial arts genius aside, it's the film's warm-heartedness that has really given it its staying power."

The film that shot the young Jackie Chan to stardom and still a fan favourite decades later, Drunken Master is pivotal in the history of kung-fu movies because of the weay it introduced comedy to the genre. Sure, Bruce Lee had his playful moments, but it was Chan who led the way in the development of comedic characters - in this case Fei-hung, a mischievous young man who is sent by his despairing father to learn kung-fu (and perhaps discipline) from his mysterious elderly uncle, Beggar So (Siu Tin Yuen). At first Fei-hung regards this as torture (and it's not hard to see why), but after an encounter with a villain he becomes determined to master this art and get his revenge.

All kung-fu masters have their secrets and, given the title of this film, viewers won't struggle to guess what So's is. Indeed, one of the most perilous moments for the central pair occurs when Fei-hung's carelessness forces his master to face a fight in overly sober condition. The amalgamation of drunken behaviours and powerful strikes provides natural comedy and will remind some viewers of the portrayal of dissolute characters in ballet. It enhances the film's inspired slapstick. But whilst there is plenty of silliness here, especially in the opening section, there's also some brilliant fighting on display, and even at this tender age Chan is a good enough actor to endear people to him in a way that goes beyond simply being good at being laughed at.

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A bright colour palette and knowingly cheesy score signal this film's playfulness from the outset, as do the names of minor villains like Iron Head Rat and the King of Sticks. To say that it's one of the campest entries in the genre will make some fans widen their eyes, but at times this borders on Monty Python's army drill camping it up sketch, and joyously so. There's also a good supply of fart jokes to keep kids in the audience happy. This shouldn't put off the grown-ups, however, because none of this intrudes on the central story or the action. The fight scenes are shot with deceptive simplicity. Even at this stage, Chan was doing his own choreography, and excellent communication between director and stars means we don't miss a thing even in the most elaborately staged scenes. There are some spectacular stunts and Chan cements his reputation for commitment, letting himself get beaten up repeatedly.

Martial arts genius aside, it's the film's warm-heartedness that has really given it its staying power, charming generation after generation of fans. This is a simple story told well, and it gets results.

Reviewed on: 24 Apr 2017
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A young tearaway is sent to learn kung-fu from his strict, mysterious and heavy-drinking uncle.
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Director: Woo-Ping Yuen

Writer: Lung Hsiao, See-Yuen Ng

Starring: Jackie Chan, Siu Tin Yuen, Jang Lee Hwang, Dean Shek, Kau Lam, Linda Lin, Hsia Hsu, Kwai Shan

Year: 1978

Runtime: 111 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Hong Kong


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