One of the films that really turned Jackie Chan into a star was 1978’s “Drunken Master.” The success of this film ended up leading to a ton of films trying to capitalize by having Drunken this and Drunken that in their titles. One such film is the one we look at today. It came in 1979 and even carries over one of the characters from the Chan classic… “The World of Drunken Master.”
The film begins with an old man, Fan Ta-Pei (Jack Lung), skilled in the drunken style of fighting. Like in many kung fu movies, this means he regularly gets challenged to fights as he goes about his daily business. After one such fight, he ends up getting a letter which leads him to a location where he encounters another old man. After the two fight for a few moments, they realize that they know each other. The other man is Begger Su (Simon Yuen…who also played the part in “Drunken Master”). The two then sit down to some wine and recall when they first learned the drunken style of fighting.
Now we flashback to when they were young. They meet as rival fruit vendors, who have both been stealing grapes, the finest grapes in the land, for their inventory. When they are both caught one night, they are put to work in the local distillery. While working there, they become friends and compete for the attention of the distillery owner’s daughter, Yu-Lu.
One day, the two see a gang of thugs come into town demanding protection money from the local merchants. The headstrong twosome decide to intervene. They successfully run off the thugs, but not without some difficulty. This catches the eye of Chan Chi (Hui Lou Chen), an old man they work with. He offers to train them in the drunken style of kung fu.
Elaborate training methods follow for our two heroes. Meanwhile, the protection racket thugs have gone to the nasty Tiger Yeh (Lung Fei), who happens to own the land the distillery sits on. He orders it shut down, and his men capture Fan and Su. As Chan does battle with Tiger’s men, Fan and Su manage to escape. They then meet up with Chan and Yu-Lu and flee to mountains…with Tiger and his men in pursuit. This all culminates in a huge display of kung fu skills as the young students try to defeat Tiger Yeh and his meanies.
I’ve said it before, when it comes to kung fu films, I couldn’t care less about the story as long as there is some great fight sequences. “The World of Drunken Master” certainly has that. Now, I admit, I usually prefer kung fu sequences that involve tools or props of some sort. There isn’t a whole lot of that here, but the fight sequences are intricate and build in their complexity as the film progresses. Even though these sequences are quite entertaining, however, I don’t know that they really capture the “drunken” style. I’m no expert on the elements of the different kung fu fighting styles, but this doesn’t really feel like the drunk type moves we saw out of Jackie Chan in the film that started the inebriated kung fu craze. Here, the performers only seem to wobble around drunkenly in those moments where they are striking poses and not actually making contact with each other. Kind of like they realized, “oh yeah, I’m supposed to be drunk.” Still, it doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the fight sequences.
This film also benefits from a great villain. Many western viewers will probably recognize Lung Fei from his role in “Tiger and Crane Fist,” the film which was morphed into “Kung Pow: Enter the Fist.” First of all, his look is just so menacing, especially his tiny burning eyes. Plus, his approach to his fight scenes seems so effortless…like how Darth Vader holds a lightsaber with one hand in Empire. Evil don’t need two hands, fool! Hui Lou Chen is also quite good, another familiar face from Kung Pow.
Of course, there is poorly dubbed voices for us westerners to contend with, not to mention a few sloppy filmmaking moments (yes, jumps cuts, I’m talking about you), but on a whole “The World of Drunken Master” is a fun excursion into the realm of kung fu cinema. But unlike the characters in the movie, I recommend viewing it sober.