Issue #214           HOME          E-mail:        BACK ISSUES                May 31st, 2004

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Drunken Master
(1978; Seasonal Film Corporation)

Cantonese: Jui kuen
Mandarin: Zui quan
English: Drunken Fist
Alternate English Title: Drunken Monkey in the Tiger's Eyes


RATING: 8/10


Following the success of SNAKE IN THE EAGLE'S SHADOW (issue #182a), Yuen Woo-ping quickly paired his father Simon Yuen Siu-tin and rising star Jackie Chan once again for this wonderful period martial arts comedy. The young Huang Fei-hung (or Wong Fei-hung in Cantonese) is far from the great hero he would later grow up to be: a disrespectful layabout, his actions constantly bring shame to his noble father, Huang Chi-ying (Lam Kau). Desperate to put his son back on the right road, he forces him to become a student of the ruthless master Su Hua-chi (Yuen), whose pupils often end up crippled. Sure enough, Master Su puts Fei-hong through the tortures of Hell with his intensive training techniques. After numerous attempts to escape, Fei-hung finally manages to elude the old man but gets into a fight with the deadly Yen Tieh-hsin (Hwang Jang-li), who beats him senseless. Humiliated, Fei-hung returns to Master Su and begins to take his instruction seriously, so that he may get revenge. Fei-hung's new skills will be put to the test sooner than he expects, as Yen has been hired to murder Chi-ying.

Filled with virtually non-stop kung fu and some outstanding training sequences, DRUNKEN MASTER is the best of Jackie Chan's '70s films. The comedy is amusing but rarely overbearing, the dramatics are plausible, and the martial arts are consistently first rate. Yuen and Chan are the ultimate teacher and student team and every second they share is wonderful; it is a shame that they were not paired again (Yuen died the following year, during the filming of THE MAGNIFICENT BUTCHER). Compulsory viewing for both Chan fans and those whose tastes lean toward traditional martial arts films. A belated but even better sequel followed in 1994. Dean Shek Tien, San Kuai, Tino Wong Cheung, and Yuen Shun-yee also appear.

Jackie Chan Hwang Jang-li Jackie Chan (left), Lam Kau


The version of DRUNKEN MASTER featured on the old Far East Music laserdisc runs 110 minutes and, while the LD looks horrid in comparison to Mei Ah's new anamorphic master, it runs 4 minutes longer than the DVD (I have not seen the Region 1 release from Columbia Tristar). It would appear that Seasonal Films no longer possesses a Cantonese sound master for the longer version. Thus, Mei Ah has chosen to format the disc in the same manner as Universe's SHAOLIN SOCCER DVD. At three points in the movie, an icon appears in the top right corner. Clicking "Enter" on your remote brings up the footage that has been dropped from the movie because these scenes were either missing or damaged beyond repair in the Cantonese sound master. Alas, the audio for these portions is included on the Far East LD and, while the quality is lower, it still could have been put in without much difficulty. Instead, as you would expect, the missing sections (curiously identified in the supplementary section as "special footage") can be heard only in Mandarin. On top of this, there is no option to view the movie without the logo appearing -- why was this not done for those who wish to view the movie in Mandarin? A comparison of the disc and LD also reveals something interesting. The opening sequence (featuring the fight between Hwang and Yuen Shun-yee) has been re-dubbed with different voices on the DVD track. There are a few other brief spots where this has happened (including one where a character yells "Hey, hey!" in English!) -- why was this not for the other missing scenes? (By comparison, the American disc simply switches to the English track, which is a pretty miserable compromise) The only extras are useless cast and crew sections and an option called "Mastering the Drunken Master." The latter sounds like a restoration documentary but is just a pointless 30 second collage of scenes. There is also no time coding and the 98 minute running time listed on the keep case and outer sleeve is (thankfully) incorrect.

Simon Yuen  Simon Yuen (left), Jackie Chan Hwang Jang-li (left), Jackie Chan

As for the visuals, Mei Ah has done a good job cleaning up what were likely very worn out source materials. Some light staining can still be detected, along with a few scratches, and some missing frames have been not-so-successfully covered with editing and/or by altering the speed of the film. On the plus side, colors are reasonably vivid and detail levels quite acceptable. The image still looks a bit run down at times but almost all of the speckles have been removed and it is difficult to imagine an independent production of this vintage looking much better with current technology. The original mono tracks are included, along with a new mix for the Cantonese version in Dolby Digital 5.1. Given the age and low fidelity of the original sound elements, there is not much that can be done in the way of enhancement. Reverb is common and both the upper and lower ends are pretty flat. The mono version is perfectly sufficient and generally more satisfying. While they have done good work on the visuals aspects of the presentation, Mei Ah has largely bungled this release, meaning that a definitive DVD for this title has yet to surface (Hong Kong Legends' UK release is reportedly complete but lacks the Cantonese track and has been pointlessly reformatted to 1.78:1).

This DVD is available at:

Images in this review courtesy of Mei Ah. To read captions, hover mouse over image.

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Copyright © John Charles 2000 - 2004. All Rights Reserved.

DVD Specifications

  • Hong Kong Release
  • NTSC -- Region 0
  • Mei Ah Entertainment #DVD-643
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 & 2.0
  • Post-synced Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
  • Subtitles (Optional): English, Traditional & Simplified Chinese
  • 8 Chapters
  • 16:9 Enhanced (2.35:1)
  • 106 Minutes

Ratings & Consumer Information

  • Australia: M 15+
  • Canada (video): PG
  • Great Britain: 15
  • Hong Kong: I
  • Nova Scotia: PG
  • Ontario: PG
  • Quebec: G
  • Singapore: PG
  • United States: PG-13
  • West Germany: 16
  • Contains moderate violence, mild language, and some crude content


  • 10 A Masterpiece
  • 9 Excellent
  • 8 Highly Recommended
  • 7 Very Good
  • 6 Recommended
  • 5 Marginal Recommendation
  • 4 Not Recommended
  • 3 Poor
  • 2 Definitely Not Recommended
  • 1 Dreadful