So once again we have survived.

Drunken Master

tn_drunkenmasterSadly, David Carradine wasn’t the only martial arts star who died yesterday – we also lost Shih Kien, best known as Han in ENTER THE DRAGON. Apparently he’s also in DRUNKEN MASTER but I didn’t realize it at the time so if anybody remembers which character he played let me know.

DRUNKEN MASTER is Jackie Chan and director Yuen Woo Ping circa 1978, still old school kung fu era, when their movies were always period pieces about masters, training, fighting styles and duels. Jackie plays the Chinese folk hero Wong Fei Hung as a bratty little prick, always fuckin around in class, cheating, getting in fights, stealing. It’s all played for laughs but I think you’re supposed to think it’s charming and lovable. If so I’m not sure it works.

At first he seems kind of heroic because he defends a guy from theft. This guy is selling jade, some asshole tries to rip him off and then breaks the jade and refuses to pay for it. So Fei-Hung duels the asshole and leaves him in a bodycast (his own friend says “he looks like a dumpling.”)

mp_drunkenmasterEven in the kung fu days I guess kids would have their parents go chew out other parents, so the dumpling’s dad goes to confront Master Wong about this particular beatdown. Most dads would stand up for their kid no matter what, but Master Wong is so sick of Fei-Hung’s bullshit that he just disowns him without even hearing the facts. Also he threatens to beat him to death and ultimately allows one of the dumpling’s friends to beat him instead, and Fei-Hung isn’t allowed to fight back. Fei-Hung survives though, things get out of hand, next thing you know it turns into a duel, he not only beats this new guy up but also further injures the dumpling in the bodycast.

Kind of harsh, but the deck is so stacked against him that you are able to sort of side with Fei-Hung at that point. But minutes later he goes to a restaurant, eats a feast and then tries to stick another guy with the bill. Right after going through all this over a guy not paying for jade! This movie should be called HYPOCRITICAL MASTER.

Unfortunately for the Hypocritical Master though there’s a guy called “The Gorilla” (Bolo Yeung, obviously some dude who I am told is not Bolo Yeung) working at the restaurant. And he’s not just gonna try to make him do dishes.

Most of the movie is about Fei-Hung going to train with a drifter wino named Su for a year. It’s some seriously harsh training so like George Bush in the National Guard Fei-Hung keeps trying to sneak off. The turning  point is when he’s off on his own and ends up in a fight with a mean dude with a mustache. He doesn’t know it’s the notorious assassin Thunderleg. Not only does Fei-Hung get horribly defeated, but also humiliated. Thunderleg is a blackbelt in shit-talking, and obsessed with bodily functions. He keeps ranting about Fei-Hung wiping his ass for him or cleaning up piss and shit. He asks him “what asshole” taught him his kung fu, a double whammy because it insults his kung fu and his father. The worst part is Thunderleg burns Fei-Hung’s pants so he has to go crawling back to Su in his underwear.

Unfortunately, Fei-Hung doesn’t learn to be a better person after this. But it does make him more disciplined about training. He still tries to cheat sometimes, but doesn’t go AWOL anymore. Eventually Su teaches him his secret fighting style, the 8 Drunken Gods. You have to get really drunk to pull it off. Meanwhile, Thunderlegs has been sent to kill Master Wong due to a coal rights dispute (you know how out of hand those coal rights disputes can get), so it’s all leading to a grudge match. Thunderleg is a good villain so there’s more funny trash talk in this scene:

“Master Wong, it was a real sad day for you the day you fathered that asshole.”
“You watch out or you’ll have a body with no ass!”
“Dumbhead, I suggest you go clean shit, or I’ll have to bury you too.”

The fights are mostly good, but Jackie got much better later in his career. In the early fights especially you can tell they’re just going through a long sequence of moves, like a dance, it doesn’t look like they’re making contact. So it gets kind of confusing in the fight where he’s not allowed to fight back. He keeps dodging the hits but I wasn’t always sure if you were supposed to think they were hitting him or not.

One of the best fights is with his aunt who has some kind of crane or flamingo style. Her leg moves like a fold-out yardstick. The other highlight is the drunken kung fu, a good gimmick because he stumbles around looking disoriented, but stays on his feet and is unpredictable to foes.

I do have to wonder about the long term viability of this style, though. Sure, he wins the fight and keeps his pants, but what about the effects on his health and his family? Su’s hands shake if he doesn’t drink wine. It can’t be good for your liver to be chugging 100% proof from a jug every time you have to fight. Some day soon he’s gonna be blacking out, waking up in weird places, discovering he bought a bunch of rice bowls or something he didn’t need, and his cousin so she won’t speak to him anymore and he doesn’t even remember why.

But I guess it’s like anything, you gotta make sacrifices in your life to be the best at something. I haven’t seen DRUNKEN MASTER II in a long time. I’ll have to check in to see how this rough lifestyle has affected his health and relationships later on.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Saturday, June 6th, 2009 at 12:29 am and is filed under Martial Arts, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

14 Responses to “Drunken Master”

  1. Harsh times indeed. I’m also having a marathon to pay my respects to the greats who passed away. In the last 2 days I’ve watched Death Race 2000 ( obviously) and Enter the Dragon ( I like Han , but for me is too much like a Dr. NO / Spectre villain.Also : I always hated the first claw , you know , the furry one. With a full room of weapons , that’s your choice?). Now I’m in the mood for some old school martial arts movies , so maybe I will watch Drunken Master , too. Another good movie with Drunken style is “Heroes of the East”.Gordon Liu fights a bunch of Japanese masters and he has to learn the style from a drunkard, plus he fights a ninja!!!Very cool movie!

  2. The sequel does in fact show how the alcohol affects him at the end
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-w5PvIw28a8
    Have you seen The Young Master, Vern? That’s a good early Jackie one, with lots of props-based fighting (fighting with a stool, fighting with a pipe, fighting with a skirt), and a final battle that’s 80% Jackie getting beat up with no offence of his own, until he drinks Opium Water and it makes him immune to pain and go apeshit.

  3. First up error repot: that’s not Bolo Young as the Gorilla. People just assume that because the dude is Chinese and has muscles it MUST be good ‘ol lovable Bolo. It’s not. I’m not sure of the guy’s name, someone once told me it was Kong or something but I don’t know, you can also see him in the fantastically crazy ‘Game of Death II’ (aka ‘Tower of Death’) briefly.

    Was wondering when you’d get around to reviewing some Jackie Chan, vern. For a while there I thought you were one of those ‘I like my action serious! guys’, then I read your ‘Chocolate’ review and was then wondering when you’d get around to Chan’s filmography and when you did hopefully it would not be ‘The Tuxedo’ or some shit.

    I always really enjoyed his breakthrough films, ‘Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow’ (which predates and bares some strong resemblances to ‘The Karate Kid’) & this one here. I will agree with ya there though vern that Ping’s & Chan’s youth and age are apparent in the early fights of this film. For me I think Hung is depicted as such an asshole is what made it popular with the kids and really separated ‘Drunken Master’ from the pack. Not only was the movie two piss-ant little nobody kids (Ping & Chan) making a mockery out of the legendary Wong Fei Hung (also depicted in 100s of films such as ‘Once Upon a Time in China’ series & Jackie’s ‘Around the World in 80 Days’) it also went ahead and made the hero of the film a complete asshole, usually this character would be a throwaway fight in the beginning of a film or at redeems himself come film’s end. But low budget & youthful craziness aside this film is still a lot of fun.

    Like many though I enjoy the sequel more and is hands down one of my favorite Chan pictures which in fact does have a little bit of talk about how the effects of using the Eight Drunken Gods.

    So here’s hoping to see more Chan reviews in the future and hopefully not a review on how he is now a Communist mouthpiece.

    As for a Shih Kien memorial, if you want a non-Enter the Dragon look at him another great role of his is in Jackie Chan’s ‘The Young Master’ as a police chief, not only is he hilarious he keeps up Chan even though the man is like triple his age. For ol’skool Jackie ‘Young Master’ is still my favorite and also in my top 5 of his films. But if you want to see Kien in top form (and Chan as well) as a memorial then I highly recommend you track down a copy of that one. (note it seems every DVD release of the film has a different cut so you may want to research)

  4. damn you stu saying what I was going to say, beating me to it and doing it in a third of the wording!! But yeah that final fight is nuts in that movie. Just showed the film to my cousin a couple of months ago, absolutely love that film (hope one day Chan’s 3-hour cut is released)!

    For other funny Kien check out in Ringo Lam’s ‘Aces Go Places IV’ (aka ‘Mad Mission IV’) & Sammo Hung’s hilarious ‘Shanghai Express’ (aka ‘Millionaire’s Express’) and he also had a small role in Tsui Hark’s ‘Once Upon A Time In China.’

    -as an aside I always enjoyed Kien in the several films I saw him pop up in and he will be missed and I do hope that at least some of the 99 Wong Fei Hung films he made with Kwan Tak-hing (Kien played the bad guy in all 99 of them and all where different characters & masters of a different form!) will be released in some form in the future but it seems unlikely as most of the films are lost and apparently there is a huge aversion to black & white films in Asia (even worse than it is here, the Coen Brother’s ‘The Man Who Wasn’t There’ had to be colourized before it was released there!)

  5. This same character and his Dad were shown in Iron Monkey, but it shows Wong Fei Hung as a little boy played by a girl and his Dad is Donnie Yen. In that movie at least, Wong isn’t the little bastard you described but a dedicated student of his Dad’s kung fu who gets into big fights with adults and beats the shit out of them. It could’ve been lame, but as choreagraphed by Yuen woo ping it comes across as both awesome looking, and more like Feral Kid cutting off that dude’s fingers and crawling around the hood of the semi, and less like Short Round beating up muscle bound guards. Iron Monkey is a pretty great movie by the way, it’s a great precursor to Crouching Tiger/Hero sort of movies, but with wires and trampolines instead of CGI, but the tone is more like Stephen Chow than Zhau Yimou. So yeah, good stuff.

  6. By the way Vern, if you wound up reviewing Iron Monkey at some point, it won’t not make me happy.

  7. Second. Iron Monkey has one of my top 3 favorite guy-using-an-umbrella-as-a-sword swordfights ever.

  8. Third for Iron Monkey. The fights in that film escalate so awesomely, from the simply beginning fight with the umbrella to the crazy two-on-one battle on top of firey poles. Pure awesomeness.

  9. One_guy_from_Andromeda

    June 6th, 2009 at 9:53 am

    I’m not really that into Kung Fu movies, but i always loved the drunken boxing style, i think it looks just amazing! I also liked that the main character in Drunken Master was such an asshole, there are too many perfect heroes around anyway…

  10. Drunken Master II is still my favourite martial arts film. The final 15 minutes is insane, and the speed at which Jackie and the villian (his in real life bodyguard) fight is astounding.

  11. […] Drunken Master | The Life and Art of Vern […]

  12. Wow , I wasn’t able to find Drunken Master at my video-store , but I’ve found Iron Monkey !!! I’ve watched it last night and , my God that movie is awesome!!!! I particularly like the scene when they throw the monkey showing his ass in jail! And , in my opinion the Iron Monkey is OBVIOUSLY a ninja. Thanks for dropping the name of this movie , you guys !!!!

  13. I’m going to give you guys a warning here. There is an ‘Iron Monkey 2’ with Donny Yen out there. But it is one of those sequels in name only and is not worth a look (that was during the mid-90s when Yen successfully flushed his career down the toilet a second time).

    That said. Yes ‘Iron Monkey’ is an insanely great action film. Even with the music changes and inaccurate subtitles I still dug the hell out of seeing the movie in theatres when it came out (especially since I was still stuck with a fuzzy Tai Seng VHS at the time). Definitely one of my favorite martial arts films.

    For those of you in a young Wong Fei Hung mood with ‘Drunken Master’ & ‘Iron Monkey’. Try and track down Lau Kar Leung’s ‘Martial Club’ which was the first movie about a young Wong Fei Hung. (you are going to have to import that one though).

  14. Haven’t seen this one. But I loved the second! The guy with the fast kicking legs, and jackie doing the pre-matrix bullet dodge pose in the middle of a fight! classic stuff. I expected no less from the director of Master Killer.

    There are just so many Wong Fei Hung Movies out there, that its hard to keep up. Wasn’t there a thunderleg (or leg something?) in once upon a time in china III as well? I think Jet Li and Jackie should reprise their roles in a vs. type match. Where you have the serious and slightly goofy Wong Fei Hung fighting against the all around goofy drunkard that jackie portrays in his movies going at it in some ONE type universe. Which they will then team up with the little Wong Fei Hung, training him into being the best Wong Fei Hung, that will be even more powerful than the real Wong Fei Hung that had existed. From there, they will travel into a forbidden kingdom where they meet the father of the iron monkey, the monkey king that leads onto stephen chow’s chinese oddessey and so forth (since theres alot of those type movies about the monkey king too.) It’ll be the best movie of all time! or the best wong fei hung movie of all time.

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