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From Under A Rock: Drunken Master

August 27, 2018 | Posted by Michael Ornelas
Jackie Chan Drunken Master
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From Under A Rock: Drunken Master  


We’ve been doing more martial arts movies this year for the column and I can’t think of one we’ve disliked. This week takes us a little further into the comedic realm of kung-fu.

You only get one first time, and for some people, it comes later than it does for others. This particular column is about documenting the first viewing of a “classic” movie or TV show determined at the discretion of Aaron Hubbard and Michael Ornelas in alternation.

Last week Aaron chose The Manchurian Candidate. This week Michael takes Aaron out from under the proverbial rock to show him Drunken Master.

Drunken Master
Released: October 5th, 1978
Directed by: Yuen Woo-Ping
Written by: Siao Lung & Ng See-Yuen
Jackie Chan as Wong Fei-Hung
Yuen Siu-Tin as Begger So
Hwang Jang Lee as Thunderleg Yen Tie Hsin
Lam Kau as Wong Kei-Ying

Michael Ornelas: I saw this a couple years back and was just amazed at the seamless mixture of comedy and martial arts exhibited by Jackie Chan. I knew he was good, but didn’t appreciate just how good until after watching this.

Aaron Hubbard: This was my first real look at a young Jackie Chan. I was already partially familiar with his talent from films like Rush Hour, Shanghai Noon and The Karate Kid, but going back to see his roots was really exciting.
Cartoonish Charm
Michael: This movie gave off a bit of a Looney Toons vibe at times, but I loved it. From hitting a dude with a thick skull on the head several times with a mallet that gave him huge bumps, to the choices made with sound effects…this movie was pretty nuts. And Chan was the heart and soul of it. I feel this movie embodies exactly what I’ve come to expect from Jackie Chan in his later years, and that’s just pure fun mixed with virtuosic physical ability.

Aaron: Those huge bumps from the mallet is the one thing in this movie that kept it from being a true classic, in my opinion. It’s the pickiest of nits, and I acknowledge that, but it was a rare case of a movie actually breaking my suspension of disbelief. (I like to think I give movies a lot of leeway.) As for the rest… you pretty much nailed it. This was a great example of a movie that exists to showcase the exact talents of its star. More than a few martial arts movies are like this, from Enter the Dragon to Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior, but Jackie Chan is unique in that he also has this one-of-a-kind charisma and comedic talent to go with his amazing stunt work and fighting skills. Nobody can entertain in exactly the same way as Jackie Chan.

Michael: The fact that I enjoyed The Tuxedo (granted, I was 14) when I saw it in theaters speaks to just how talented the man is. He’s just fun. He deserves more prestige in the eyes of Hollywood in general, if you ask me.
The Unlikable Protagonist
Aaron: Something that was a little odd for me watching this movie was realizing that Chan’s character wasn’t somebody we were really meant to like right away. He’s a spoiled brat, a bully, and has a general lack of respect for anyone. Which makes the rather intense punishments and training he goes through (usually just done to go “look at this cool guy doing these difficult things”) actually make sense for the sake of a story. I was actually really happy to see Thunderleg humble Wong Fei-Hung, and while he didn’t grow by leaps and bounds in the story, there was a satisfying amount of character growth. I’m interested to see how this plays out over sequels.

Michael: I actually felt the same way. He was a brat for most of the movie. I think it really hit me in the scene where he’s stealing food from the restaurant. He orders a feast and some wine and tries to dine and dash, and then beats up the restaurant staff and security dude. I realized it was a bit like John Cena logic, where he’ll make the first attack on a heel who has a valid point and we’re supposed to cheer him. It’s…fine, for all intents and purposes, but did nothing to endear me to the character. It’s a good thing Chan’s naturally magnetic, or I’d have had a hard time getting into it.

Aaron: Unsurprisingly, what this reminded me most of was one of the MCU’s most tried and true formulas; taking an arrogant asshole, growing him the hell up and making him a likable hero who we can root for. They do this a lot; Iron Man, Thor, Doctor Strange, and Guardians of the Galaxy all come to mind as examples of this. I don’t think Drunken Master executes the arc quite as well as those, mostly because its priorities are more on comedy and stuntwork than storytelling. But I appreciate how all the important story beats are told through fight scenes. In this way it reminded me of a musical, just with fight scenes instead of musical numbers. It’s interesting to look at the genre and see commonalities with other ones.
Beggar So
Drunken Master
Michael: So the movie is named after the role of Beggar So, the drunk who takes in Jackie Chan’s character and trains him, and his unorthodox fighting style. His kung-fu is at its strongest when he’s a little on the tipsy side, and he uses that to take his opponents by surprise because of how competent he actually is. It’s a neat idea that’s actually really clever when you see it executed in the movie. The lessons he imparts upon Wong Fei-Hung actually make him a better fighter, and while not completely giving him the same method of fighting, it opens Fei-Hung’s eyes to different styles, approaches, and disciplines of Kung-Fu, while still pushing a comedic agenda forward.

Aaron: It’s not always played for laughs though. One of the more effective dramatic beats in the story comes when a couple of thugs come to So’s house to get revenge, and he hasn’t had anything to drink. While this limits his ability to fight his Drunken Master style, we also see So visibly shaking from the lack of it; he needs the alcohol to deal with his life. Despite his happy-go-lucky, generous and kind nature, this little bit of playing alcoholism makes him much more interesting to me. Why did he become an alcoholic? Where did he get his training, what has he been through to reach this point in his life? I get the feeling he has been through some real life trauma and being drunk is the only he can cope with it, which adds a bit of tragedy to a movie that’s almost exclusively a joke-fest. This is a good decision, in my opinion.

Michael: Yeah, I agree. It adds layers to a disability pretty much played for laughs. I’d be curious to see if they explore it in Story of the Drunken Master, which I haven’t seen or heard much about, but would be down to watch after seeing this film.

Aaron: As an action movie and a comedy, I think Drunken Master absolutely succeeds, though I think sometimes the comedy goes a bit too far for its own good. Jackie Chan is a once in a lifetime talent and the movie is worth recommending just for how it showcases him, but it’s a great start for a series I’m looking to watch more of.


Michael: The stuntwork from Chan is simply incredible. It mixes pristine execution with comedic timing and shows that he can carry a movie, as I believe this was his first leading role. It’s easy to understand why he has become a star, even as early as this film. I agree with Aaron’s gripes, and rating.


Aaron: I hear Legend of the Drunken Master is the best in this series, so I definitely want to get around to that one.

Michael: I actually haven’t heard much about either of the sequels, but if they’re anything like this, I will happily give them a watch.

Do you think Jackie Chan is underappreciated or is he a niche product who has just the right amount of respect?

Next week:

Aaron: I may live to regret this next pick…

Michael: I have no idea what I’m in for. If it’s so bad it’s good, I’m sure I’ll love it. If it’s Battlefield Earth…ouch.

Aaron: Back when Marvel movies were far from untouchable… I mean… well, before that was ruined again… #RehireJamesGunn

Howard the Duck

Misunderstood masterpiece or just a piece of crap? Help us decide!

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The final score: review Very Good
The 411
Drunken Master is a fun, action-packed, occasionally uneven but deliriously entertaining movie. It's a near perfect showcase for the comedy, stunt work and martial arts skill that make Jackie Chan an indispensable performer. If you're a fan of martial arts movies, it's worth seeking out, and if you're a fan of Jackie in particular it's required viewing.