Miramax // 1994 // 102 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // September 14th, 2009
He's got a secret weapon with a lot of kick.
Jackie Chan's legendary martial arts extravaganza stumbles its way onto Blu-ray, with mixed results.
Wong Fei Hung (Jackie Chan, Rush Hour) is regarded as kind of a goofball around town. But get some wine into him and the dude will put on a show you won't soon forget. He is the titular Drunken Master, a martial artist who, following inebriation, can not be stopped. But his oppressive father discourages him from using his drunken boxing, even if it's to defend his own mother from the local scumbags.
However, when a corrupt ambassador's conspiracy to smuggle out China's priceless artifacts is revealed, the responsibility for kicking the living crap out of these guys will fall to Hung. What ensues is some insane martial artistry.
First things first: if you consider yourself even the slightest fan of kung fu cinema, you need to have this film in your collection in any format -- VHS, DVD, Laserdisc, whatever. The Legend of Drunken Master is a sight to behold. I like Jackie Chan as much as the next guy, but the stunt work he unleashes in this is unlike anything I've ever seen, from him or anybody else.
And really, that's the primary thrust of Drunken Master, getting its star involved in as many outlandish fight sequences as possible. The plot serves primarily as a vehicle to accomplish this, bringing forward a serviceable but disposable narrative to move Chan to the next eye-popping exercise in manic fight choreography. If you think a story on antiques smuggling lacks creative punch, you'd be correct, but I reckon any gripes you'd have with the storytelling will quickly dissipate once Chan starts doing his thing.
Fight scenes are lengthy, creative, and astonishing in execution, each one consistently outdoing what came before. The pacing is just right, too, keeping the action evenly spaced out, which is especially effective when you realize whatever lies ahead will be even more bad-ass than what you just saw. All of it leads up to the final confrontation, a humongous battle royale against the big bad (a dude with amazing feet) that takes place in a steel plant and seems to run 20 minutes or more. It's truly a sight to behold and one of the finest exhibitions of martial arts shenanigans I've ever seen.
Jackie Chan is as fearless as ever, effortlessly blending slapstick humor, genuine charm, and physical ability that defies reality. I still can't get over the sequence where he falls into burning coals and crawls through the cinders on his hands, his spinning head-butts, or balancing himself while near-perpendicular, bending over backwards. And there's so much more. In fact, to soak up all the subtleties of his fighting performance would require multiple run-throughs, a task I am only too happy to undertake.
Unfortunately, this Blu-ray doesn't make it easy. Here's the straight dope: the high-def treatment of Drunken Master offers only the most marginal upgrade in visual quality. It's there and it's noticeable, but if you already own the DVD I can't recommend an additional investment, based purely on the desire for superior picture quality. Colors and details are soft and in some instances I swear it looks like the aspect ratio is slightly out of whack. All in all, not the revelatory transfer fans may have been hoping for. Audio comes courtesy of a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio, an effective enough mix, but again nothing extraordinary. Only one extra: an old interview with Jackie Chan.
As far as martial arts filmmaking goes, it doesn't get much better than Drunken Master. As far as Blu-ray treatments go, it gets a lot better.
The film: Not Guilty. The disc: bailiff take him away.
Review content copyright © 2009 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 1994
MPAA Rating: Rated R