Drunken Master (1978) by Yuen Woo-ping

I saw Drunken Master right ‘Fist of Fury’ so as to continue my study of Chinese martial arts films. Drunken Master continues the lineage of excellent fight scenes but is more of a comedy. The fights, the characters and the story all use slapstick albeit of a caliber that is highly physically demanding.

That said, I found the film to be a bit boring as the fights scenes just went on and while they were well choreographed, they lacked the emotional depth that modern fights films such as, ‘Ip Man’ or ‘Raid’ have. This is not to say that fights need to be serious; Jackie Chan who stars in this film has gone on to become a master of comedy action films but unlike them, Drunken Master does not have stakes within the fight itself. To refer to a cliche, Drunk Master lacks a vase that Jackie needs to stop from breaking.

The film also suffers from a lack of a real antagonist. The opponent for the final confrontation is foreshadowed at the beginning but then he is completely abandoned till the fight actually occurs.

While the story is weak, the characters are colorful and diverse. Though they are all chinese, the film has female and male characters who all hold their own. This seems to be in stark contrast to western cinema which dragged its feet when it came to depicting fighting women.

Drunken Master is a good insight into the history of martial arts films and the many ways in which the west has benefitted from these well choreographed fight scenes. That said, it is not a film that the average modern viewer will enjoy as their taste will have evolved too much since the time the film came out.

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