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DRUNKEN MASTER, 1978
Movie Review

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DRUNKEN MASTER,    MOVIE POSTERDRUNKEN MASTER, 1978
Movie Reviews

Directed by Woo-ping Yuen
Starring: Jackie Chan, Siu Tien Yuen, Jang Lee Hwang, Tien Lung Chen, Ching Chiang
Review by Paul Wilkins


SYNOPSIS:

The father of Wong Fei-hong, who has been attempting to teach his son kung-fu, but has found him too disobedient to teach and decides to send him off to his uncle, a cruel and torturous master of the 8-Drunken Genii kung-fu. After much suffering the son comes back to rescue the father from an assassin who has also previously humiliated Naughty Panther. A great showcase of Jackie Chan's slapstick comedic talents.

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REVIEW:

We all know Jackie Chan. He is by far one of the funniest icons in Martial Arts cinema. In movies like Rush hour and The Tuxedo, he has proven time and time again that his acrobatic style of martial arts is one of the most comical. He can even be seen as the Bill Cosby of Kung Fu. His slapstick comedy style is something to be remembered among all ages.

Drunken Master a.k.a. "Drunk Monkey In The Tiger's Eye" is a funny Chan Film that I remember laughing at when I was a boy. Now I have the pleasure of sitting down to view it so I can review it. It was made in 1978 by director Yuen Woo- Ping. It tells the story of a folk hero Freddie Wong (Jackie Chan) and his rise to become master of the Drunken Form. The Drunken Fist (Zui Quan) is a hard to learn Wushu art that combines eight drunken stances. Any practitioner of this deadly form must first build strong joints and the power to execute each stance. Each move replicates the manners of a drunkard. In this film, the Drunken Fist is given a light hearted touch, with fast puns and clever come backs.

Drunken Master is full of a perfect cast of complementary characters. For every serious fighter, there is a clown or a comic to match. For instance, Freddie Wong’s first teacher is a Kung Fu fighter with half a beard. He is a scrawny fellow with a thin beard that grows out the side of his face. Although the beard is about the size of his thumb, he strokes it with the intensity of a master mind. It is his job to prove to Freddie that he is the master of Kung Fu. Freddie is the class clown that out wits him and fights him with every turn. This master student relationship is like a game of cat and mouse. It is a constant game played with each character through out the movie.

Freddie Wong is like a clever mouse. He out smarts and challenges almost every person that crosses his path. In one scene, he pulverizes a rich man who tries to steal a jade emerald from a merchant. At the end of the fight he pounds the rich man with a sword. Upon a cooking table like a fish ready to be filleted. A few scenes later this beaten man is brought to Freddie’s father. “Boy, he really beat him up. He looks like a dumpling,” quips a chubby fighter who stands behind his dad. Angered with his son’s immaturity Freddie’s dad sends him to fight camp.

Freddie learns to fight again, but this time from his drunk uncle. At first he tries to flee, but he cannot escape the pain and torment of hard work. Every time he pulls a prank on his teacher, he is out smarted and forced to work harder. Eventually he matures along with his skill as he begins to choose his battles wisely. More importantly, Freddie learns to honor his elders. First he respects his teacher by bringing him all the wine he can drink. Last he defends his father by beating his would be assassin. Once all of his lessons are learned and combined, Freddie becomes the Drunken Master.

This film follows a consistent story line that focuses on Freddie Wong. Although his intentions are good, Freddie struggles to mature. He finds himself in constant fights and he suffers the results of his violent actions. For instance, Freddie fought a thief who happened to be a very rich man. As a result of that and other fights, he was forced to train with his uncle. Eventually all his struggles result in his rise to power. Like many great martial arts films, there is little gap in the story and constant battles.

Like many great movies, this one has a mean villain. This villain has a cold look that can kill any man. His kicks are completely deadly. His fists are like shadows, and are so fast that they are hard to see. Although his is a great fighter, he is the only man in the film without a sense of humor. However, even he is overcome by the acrobatics and funny quips of the hero.

The director has a humorous style of storytelling that is easy to follow. His non-stop fight scenes tell a story of good versus evil. Many times an honest person like Freddie is pitted against a dishonest villain. Although Freddie can play a few pranks himself, he is in no sense evil. Instead his battles shows a boy who tries to make sense of the world. He may fight against wrong, but why doesn’t he always win? As Freddie matures, he learns to win more fights. In this way, there is a progression from boyhood to manhood. In addition, morality underscores everything in this film. This consistent approach with a well written script makes the film easy to follow.

Although this motion picture was shot in the 70’s, the costumes and sets take the film to another time. We are invited to an agrarian setting, in ancient China. Traditional clothes and detailed architecture paints the picture of a simple time. We are immersed in an old culture of simplicity. In addition, the constant daylight and summer green leaves gives this film a light-hearted look. The director’s detail to setting and style paints a picture of an ancient world.

The film’s musical score is as traditional as the setting. There are no cheesy disco themes. Instead, only Chinese cultural songs are played. At times these songs are light hearted and happy. In other instances, the songs are strict and aggressive. The themes in this film compliments a specific hero, villain or scene. The most memorable theme belongs to Freddie. This theme is played as he trains and grows to become the Drunken Master. It is a patient and steady theme; one that underscores the morality of this film. Like the other songs, this one is a traditional Chinese cue.

This film plays heavy on tradition. Everything from theme, setting and song point to an older time. First the honorable characters are the older ones. They reinforce the themes of morality, growth and honor. Even the dishonest elders are esteemed by the younger characters. Second the film’s design takes us to an ancient day. The dress and architecture are both traditional. Third, the music pays homage to an ancient style. The Chinese themes takes us to a simple culture. Like this film, the music is solid and steady. Everything in this film reinforces the comfort of tradition.

Drunken Master is a memorable coming of age story. It is told with laughs and endless humor. Even the fights have an element of comedy. Whenever the fights are serious, they are mellowed out by the humor of Jackie Chan. This film is strong and consistent with its characters, story and more. As a result, Drunken Master was a funny film filled with punches, kicks and slapstick fighting. I give it 4 karate kicks out of 4 for a kick ass fighting film.

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