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Blu-ray Review: The Legend of Drunken Master

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An indirect sequel to 1978's Drunken Master, 1994's The Legend of Drunken Master stars Jackie Chan as Wong Fei Hung, a relatively young man who has learned from his father the "drunken boxing" style of kung fu. Directed by Chia-Liang Liu, the film is an excellent example of why Jackie Chan is famous – it is full of not just great fights and some pretty incredible stunts, all of which Chan does himself, but is also truly funny.

The story in The Legend of Drunken Master is none too developed, but is enough to give Chan multiple opportunities to show his craft. Such as it is, the tale starts with Wong Fei Hung returning from a trip with his father, Wong Kei Ying (Lung Ti), and their servant, Tso (Chi-Kwong Cheung), on a train. Fei Hung is trying to smuggle some ginseng which is wrapped in exactly identical fashion to a stolen artifact being taken out of the country by the British ambassador. The two items get switched, and Fei Hung and his family quickly find themselves involved in the intrigue (as surely it is up to them to prevent the British from smuggling artifacts out of the country). As it turns out, though they don't know it, they're already involved as Kei Ying's school is right next to the ambassador's home and the ambassador doesn't appreciate being kept up late at night due to Kei Ying's students practicing.

It's an unnecessary confluence of events, as the entire point of the film is to find an excuse for Jackie Chan to show off his martial arts skills and simply rescuing the artifacts is enough of a reason. Additionally, as one would expect, there are fights even if there isn't much of a reason for them to exist – such as in Fei Hung's battle at the market with Tsang (Felix Wong), the fishmonger.

Chan has made a career of being able to take his kung fu abilities and add to them (and his films) a sense of humor. He is a fantastic physical comedian, and his fusing of comedy with kung fu is always wonderful to behold. As he states in the bonus feature (more on that below), while the kung fu he displays in the film is ludicrous if one actually wants to win a fight, it does look great.

While there are several impressive battles in this film, the best are the first – in which Fei Hung fights with a then unknown to him man under a train – and the last, in which Fei Hung battles John (Ken Lo) in an iron factory. The confined space of the first fight leads to truly impressive moves, whereas the latter has a fire-based stunt that had to be scary for both Chan and the crew watching him.

The film isn't solely comedy and kung fu based; there are some serious moments as well. Fei Hung's drunken boxing requires him to not just dance around in a battle as though he's drunk, but, if he wants to be at his most powerful, to actually drink heavily as well. His father has done his best to explain to Fei Hung the fine line between being a great drunken boxer and simply being a drunk, but for much of the film Fei Hung lists much more towards the latter than the former. It's a thread which is never fully explored, and magically, there's a throwaway line at the end of the film which indicates (at least in this dub) that Fei Hung may have found the perfect level of drunkenness.

Speaking of dubs, the Blu-ray does not contain the original Cantonese audio track, though Chan does do his own voice on the English 5.1 DTS-HD one. The track does lead to some cliché-like moments in terms of syncing lip movement and dialogue, but at least the voice we all know is present. There are, however, odd mixing issues with the track, on several occasions between scenes (and sometimes in the middle of them), the levels rise dramatically – usually this occurs as a fight is about to begin and is terribly jarring. The visuals are none-too-stunning here either. The colors are washed out and make the film look far older than it is, as does the fact that the print used has scratches and other imperfections.

As for the special features, the only one that exists is a short, approximately seven minute, interview with Jackie Chan. While nominally interesting, it does come off as a little more strictly promotional than it should.

The Blu-ray definitely does have deficiencies in its presentation, but even with them Chan is still at his best here in the film and a true master of his art. The Legend of Drunken Master may not feature the greatest of plots, but the martial arts on display are the real reason to watch it and what the audience gets there is great.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.
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