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Review Drunken Master a.k.a. Zui quan (1978): A martial arts classic!

genre: martial arts, comedy

On the Blu-ray (Eureka! The Masters of Cinema series) I own there are many specials. One of them is where Jackie Chan is being interviewed about Drunken Master. The first question is why do you think Drunken Master is so popular. Then Jackie Chan replied he wasn't exactly sure. He had intended it for the Hong Kong audience only and back then wasn't thinking about the international appeal. In his humble opinion Drunken Master was one of the first to bring a martial arts comedy like this and people always like the first. I don't know if Jackie Chan was being humble or he truly thinks this. But let me tell you that he is wrong.

Granted if you watch the film now maybe here and there the film is a little dated. However the comedy bits and the fights are of excellent quality and still hold up. That in combination with the performances is what makes Drunken Master a classic. There is a sincerity to the film you rarely see. I mean like in most Kung fu films fights start very quickly for no good reason at all. But what is more interesting there isn't your classic good versus evil plot going on. If you think about it most characters in this film are heavily flawed. Even Jackie Chan as Wong Fei Hung isn't quite like the folk hero he is known for. One could say he is mischievous but I'd say he is even villainous at times. Sure one could argue that he is very young and not worldly yet. But he is very aware when he has done something wrong and never ever apologizes for his behaviour. Yet you will still root for him since Jackie Chan makes you do that.  Hwang Jang-Lee as Thunderfoot, the main baddie, you will recognize from many other Kung fu flicks. In a short special called Kicking action or something like that you see Hwang kicking people. It's impressive as hell. He is fast and kicks like he could break you into little pieces if he wanted to. Sure his character is ruthless and very eager to kill but isn't downright evil. Once he humiliates Wong Fei Hung he allows him to flee. He could have been a real prick when they meet for the second time but demonstrates restraint. BTW he also is featured in Millionaires' Express where he plays one of the samurai. 

Naturally the one and only real scene stealer is Simon Yuen Siu-Tin as Sam Seed or Beggar So. He is the father of actor /  director Yuen Woo-ping. You will see the resemblance if you are familiar with Woo-ping.  With his red nose he is the pivotal archetype of what a true master entails. I know many people might disagree with me but I wonder how much The Karate Kid would have been a hit if it weren't for Drunken Master and Simon Yuen. The way he is hard and ruthless on his students and yet shows kindness and mercy when it's necessary. If all the masters portrayed in the films that were made after Drunken Master aren't modeled after him I will eat my shoes. Of course they are. It's so obvious. 

Drunken Master basically is template of many Jackie Chan films that followed and many other martial arts films. Why? Because it does things you can relate to. It's a tale of an underdog trying to come on top but has to train and work real hard to achieve his goal. Sounds familiar? That is like almost every sports and martial arts film ever made. So yes, Drunken Master is a classic through and through and a must watch even if you aren't a fan of martial arts. 

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