As a kid, I remember seeing Drunken Master come out in the theaters, but I never really paid much attention to it, as I wasn’t really a kung fu movie person, especially when it was dubbed over with English. It just seemed way off from the mouths and seeing cartoons or shows make fun of bad dubs like Godzilla, it just wasn’t something I went and sought out. So after scrolling through Plex and just trying to figure out something fun to watch, I decided on Drunken Master.
The Drunken Master (1978)
Apparently I was totally wrong in thinking Drunken Master was the one from when I was a kid, as the original was released in 1978 and features a very young Jackie Chan. The movie starts off immediately with a fight scene with extremely loud whooshing of arms and feet flailing in the air as Kung Fu takes place. What is amazing with this movie is that even though the scope is quite small, it features very little non action scenes. Every scene basically has fighting and training in it. Literally only one part in the entire movie features a brief dialogue scene and then moves right back into fighting until the movie finishes.
The title really doesn’t do the movie much justice, as it really isn’t about a character that was drunken all the time, but more on the fighting style itself. Again, since I was never really knowledgeable with this movie or the fighting in it, I was more misled about what I thought the movie was going to be. I was pleasantly surprised that it really did have a decent story, flow and dialoge. Sure there is some corny acting and some tongue in cheek childish humor, but I all works very well together.
The Legend of the Drunken Master (1994)
The next night I decided to figure out what really was the movie that I remember coming out as a kid with Jackie Chan being drunk. Apparently it was “The Legend of the Drunken Master” Or also known as Drunken Master II. Although it really should have been called something completely different as it isn’t a sequel or prequel to the original film. It is its entirely own separate and different story and characters.
This movie does have a very similar plot though in the beginning. Jackie Chan is the son of a Kung Fu master and gets into all sorts of mischief and trouble. He brings shame on his father and his father disowns him (at a point for all of a few scenes). Yet this one features a much bigger and more convoluted story. It is a Hollywood type sequel, in that it ups the ante much more, has bigger setpieces, longer and more choreographed action and much more dialogue and setup than its original. The first film felt very much like an independent movie, with its scope and action.
The movie does take some time to get going, and just when you think the action is getting good, it gets stopped for some story setup. The overarching plot of the Chinese historical treasures getting stolen and smuggled out of China really does nothing for the movie and only serves to create a “Big Bad Guy”. Several scenes come and go without much point and just further muddies the cast of characters. The only reason why some of these scenes take place, like I said is to setup the bad guy and also give some foreshadowing for the final showdown in the smelting plant.
Drunken Master 2, or Legend of the Drunken Master does change up the fighting philosiphy much more than I care, there as a couple call backs to the fighting stances from the first movie, but that is about it. It really is more gimmicky with the Drunken Style, focusing more on drinking to give the fighter more power instead of the 8 drunken gods of the original film. Maybe that is partly why I didn’t see it when it came out, as my parents did try to reign me in a bit with what I went to go see in the movies as a kid.
I enjoyed seeing both of these movies, but there is a clear standout better film for me. Drunken Master 1 is leaps and bounds better than the second film. Maybe that’s because I do like the more smaller told stories, the tighter budget constraints and locations really do make film makers squeeze all the creativity possible with what is provided in the scene. With the sequel so many years later, you get more budget, crazier stories and more allowance to do whatever you want.
Drunken Master 1 focuses on one crazy kid who is out of control and shames his father to make him disown him and send him off to train under the strictest master known. He rebels but after running away and getting his butt kicked, he comes back humbled and learns the way of Drunken Boxing. Taking lessons from the 8 drunken gods, each of which has their own drunken stance, that will all be used during the final battle.
It’s chock full of action… almost too much, but not quite. That will make you loose track of all time and really get into the classic Training Montage and root for the good guy to win. It’s small, simple and tells an excellent story (even if its a trope you have seen it a million times before)
Drunken Master 2 is about a English man who uses his diplomatic immunity to smuggle historical artifacts out of the country. Jackie Chan somehow gets tangled in with this by accident and uses the power of alcohol to power up and become almost invincible to thwart the evil bad guy’s plan. … It really is very similar to Lethal Weapon 2 and so many other Hollywood blockbuster sequels. It’s good, but traded in some of it’s charm and lost what was truly special about the franchise.
I loved watching both of these movies, and it’s always a joy to watch Jackie Chan be the master of comidic Kung Fu. He makes it fun and silly while also being serious when it comes to the stunts being preformed. He’s like the Yang to Bruce Lee’s Ying. Both use their skill of their craft to showcase martial arts, but in two very different ways. Bruce Lee with the more methodical, almost serious nature of it, and Jackie Chan with the more quick paced and showmanship with the splash of fun and silliness to make it feel lighter and more cheery.
If you have never seen these before, or if it’s been a while, watching them back to back in the span of a weekend and you will have a good time. If you want a little bit of a smaller and tightly compact movie, the first one will be perfect, but if you are looking for something a bit more light and fun, you can’t go wrong with the second film either.