Drunken Master Blu-ray Review

Drink Up

Note: Drunken Master is available on Blu-ray exclusively from Twilight Time.

It’s 90 minutes until Drunken Master shows signs of a plot. A local wants to dig up a graveyard to unearth the coal waiting below. That story then goes nowhere in the remaining 20 minutes.

Drunken Master acknowledges the old critical adage – no one is here for the plot, rather the plethora of kicks. It provides. Jackie Chan’s super-stardom not yet in place, his role as a mischievous son suits the antics. It’s a film laced with enthusiasm and energy, if not quite Tex Avery than one of its ilk. Manic, clever, and pulled off with an animated-like speed, Drunken Master never ceases.

If nearly two hours of back-and-forth Hong Kong martial arts (and almost nothing else) sounds repetitive, you’re wrong. Whether the playfully inept Chan or his bearded, alcoholic master So (Siu Tun Yuen), the abundance of brawling means a generous portion of creativity. Varied styles imbue the choreography with always renewed liveliness, and Chan’s comic talents begin to bleed in – once with a chair, another clash involving a bench. The latter is Drunken Master’s creative and whimsical highlight, a guffaw worthy, playful romp performed with elegance.

Varied styles imbue the choreography with renewed liveliness

Chan’s miscreant behavior leads him into the arms of So, giving Drunken Master training montages on top of training montages. Done live though, Chan’s athleticism comes through. His performance too, weaseling his way out of these tasks, ensures he doesn’t break character. There’s no inherent character progression; he’s just as much a goofball in the beginning as he is in the end. Yet, focused and better trained, an intelligent match for the alcohol-induced style.

Released the same year as Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow, it’s easy to compare the two. In their overall arcs, neither break with genre traditions. The elderly master, a young student, and excuses to fight. Chan’s talents separate the two, giving each a distinctive tone and differentiating kung fu. Both offer splendid entertainment, jazzed up with innovative comedy, releasing these imports from heavy violence and Bruce Lee’s aura.

Two years after Drunken Master, Chan arrived for his first American outing, the rather putrid Battle Creek Brawl. Inconsistent in tone and cruel in its fighting, Battle Creek didn’t follow the evolution. Instead, Chan became a copycat Bruce Lee with a touch of slapstick. What a waste in following up the brightened brilliance of Drunken Master.

Video

Gifted with a stunning print, the Blu-ray release of Chan’s early classic sports little to no damage. Outside of flickering color and one instance of a stray line down the right of the screen, Drunken Master succeeds in being preserved.

It’s a muddy, sometimes sloppy production. Expect varying grain and visible compression. Piggybacking Drunken Master with Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow causes space concerns, although it shouldn’t. Lackluster black levels cannot hide grain spikes. Buzzing shadows continue for the duration, persistent during scenes inside So’s cabin.

If keeping everything intact as such leads to the superlative color palette, it’s acceptable. Flawless flesh tones and deep color saturation give Drunken Master life. Spectacular scenes inside forests deliver clean greens. Costumes stay varied, pouring on primaries.

At the heart of it all: a modest scan. Resolution is lacking, although enough detail sprouts from the source to convince some people otherwise. Original cinematography wavers in focus, costing Drunken Master potential fidelity. Still, given the crude way most of Chan’s work came to Blu-ray, Drunken Master is nearly their champion.

Audio

Do not adjust your settings – you are hearing an English dub. Although Cantonese and Mandarin options exist, both insert pieces of the western dialog, likely to replace missing bits from the native tracks. Note the subtitles only follow the English dub as a result.

It’s not difficult to believe the Hong Kong tracks fell apart since 1978. Given how they sound, keeping them around for this release is a small miracle. With a garbled score and tin can-like conversations, Drunken Master’s selection of DTS-HD mono tracks isn’t one to showcase. At times, it’s painful. Speakers sound as if they’re tearing when trying to process the score’s treble. The included isolated score doesn’t seem too appealing in these circumstances.

Select the English for the highest quality, revulsion to the dubbing process aside. Even this track, however, crumbles due to age.

Extras

Historians Ric Meyers and Jeff Young provide a knowledgeable commentary, recorded sometime in the early 2000s. These two clearly love this genre.

The 15 unaltered images below represent the Blu-ray. For an additional 22 Drunken Master screenshots, early access to all screens (plus the 6,000+ already in our library), exclusive UHD reviews, and more, support us on Patreon.