Jackie Chan: star, brand and icon. For many, especially those raised in the West, Chan is known for his roles in comfort-food movies like “Rush Hour” and “Shanghai Noon.” These movies might be liked, but because they are watered-down for broad public consumption, they don’t inspire much emotion.
It’s important to remember that Chan didn’t start there. However much you may deride his more recent commercial fare, Chan’s house was built on the foundation of incredible movies like “Police Story” and this 1978 movie, “Drunken Master.”
“Drunken Master” shares much with his modern work, but it has an edge missing from his movies today.
If there’s one reason to see this movie, it’s for the unbelievable fight sequences. Even before adapting the “drunken” style of the title, the action scenes are unlike anything made elsewhere.
They are utterly flashy, but not derived from quick cuts or special effects, of which there are surprisingly few. Though the film uses subtle techniques, like speeding up the film slightly to make things quicker, that doesn’t affect the breathtaking ability of Chan and his team.
In an early sequence, Chan plays with a baddy’s hat with awe-inspiring deft. He pulls the hat off the enemy’s head, throws it in the air, rolls it down his arm, catches it with his foot, and kicks it up to his own head. It’s all in one motion, and there are no edits.
More than just the movements, it’s all invested with the spirit of slapstick comedy a la physical comedian greats like The Three Stooges and Buster Keaton.
Sequences like this move from the realm of “fight scenes” into visual poetry.
The earlier-mentioned missing edge, though, is the attitude of the characters. Chan, unconstrained by a kids-friendly rating, curses. His character is genuinely nasty at times. His enemies are menacing. There are no shoe-horned romances or cheesy appeals to family.
Even as a comedy, “Drunken Master” is raw, from the fight scenes to the characters. It’s a refreshing reminder that before Chan won his loftier titles, he earned it the old fashioned way.
‘Drunken Master (醉拳)’ • Where to see it: It can be watched for free on video streaming sites such as Youku.
• What to see: A slapstick comedy and action flick starring a young Jackie Chan. After Chan embarrasses his family, his father demands he join a “drunken master” of kung fu, played by Simon Yuen.
• Brian’s score: 8/10