‘Drunken Master’ – Jackie Chan begins on Prime Video

Jackie Chan was not always the clown prince of martial arts movies we know and love. Trained at the famed Peking Opera Academy, he had an early career as a stunt man, supporting player, and fight choreographer in scores of Hong Kong films, and was unexpectedly chosen as “the next Bruce Lee” in a series of stiff, serious revenge adventures. It wasn’t until director Yuen Woo-ping recognized the young performer’s knack for comedy and combined it with his energetic, acrobatic martial arts style that he found his calling.

Drunken Master (Hong Kong, 1978), a comic take on folk hero Wong Fei Hung (whose adventures had previously been chronicled in over 100 films), mixes comedy and kung-fu and pushes the stunts to crowd wowing levels. The plot is an eminently familiar martial arts formula: a rebellious troublemaker in need of guidance (Chan, of course) enters a grueling training regime under a master teacher (a red nosed Yuen Siu-tin) who teaches Jackie the secret art of Drunken Boxing, so-called because the flowing, weaving movements of the fighting style.

Of course, the consumption of alcohol only helps master this technique. He ultimately defends the honor and the lives of his loved ones in a deadly battle to the finish, but not before generous amounts of brawling, practical joking, and of course epic drinking.

The infectious mix of slapstick sequences and amazing martial arts moves breathes new life into the old school of Hong Kong action. The almost clockwork alternation of comic and action scenes is as unmistakable as the freeze-frame-like fighting style, where every move is momentarily held like a tableaux-like pose before moving on, but Chan and Yuen smooth out the jerky style with the lolling grace of the drunken fighting style. The young master flexes himself in bravura moves, most notably in the extended fight to the finish with the hissable villain. It firmly established Jackie Chan as the undisputed king of comic kung fu.

Almost twenty years later, a much older Chan returned to the role in a spectacular, stunt-filled sequel, Drunken Master II (1994), also released as Legend of the Drunken Master.

The original is in Cantonese with English subtitles, but many streaming editions feature the English dubbed release.

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow / Drunken Master [Blu-ray]
Drunken Master [DVD]

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The Blu-ray release from Twilight Time presents the film in double feature with the earlier Yuen Woo-ping / Jackie Chan collaboration Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and features Cantonese, Mandarin, and English language soundtracks (all in DTS mono) with optional English subtitles, plus commentary by film historians Ric Meyers and Jeff Yang, an isolated music and effects track and booklet with an essay by Julie Kirgo.


Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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