Happy third day of the 7 Days of Jackie Chan! We've come so far in such a short amount of time. I mean, it seems like only yesterday that we were at Day 2. Doesn't it seem that way to you? Good lord. Where does the time go?
Wait, before you start going off on a tangent like you always do when I'm trying to tell you something important. Aren't you curious to know what movie we're watching today? Hmm? You are, aren't you? Yes you are. Aw. Look at you. You're so cute when I can read your mind. Yes you are! Goochy goochy goo!
Day 3 of our random Jackie Chan festival will focus on one of GREATEST KUNG-FU FILMS OF ALL TIME EVARRRRR. Except maybe if you're currently going to AA meetings. If so, I'm really sorry. 'Cause I'm talkin' bout Drunken Master (1978), foo.
How does a noob such as myself approach the massive pinnacle of Kung-Fu cinema that Drunken Master so totally is?
Good question, thanks for asking. One way is to get a little bit hammered off of rice wine before sitting through it. Which is something that I, sadly, did not do. Being coherent for the writing of this was important to me. Because, obviously, reasons.
The other way is to view it as something that may or may not live up to the expectations set by everyone ever, especially the kind of everyone that reviews movies online. (Which is the route I took, if you couldn’t already tell.)
Now, I have a confession to make: the first half hour rubbed me the wrong way. I’m not referring to the required fight scene between Thunderleg and someother dude. What I am talking about are the scenes establishing Jackie Chan’s character and main protagonist, Wong.
Drunken Master wastes no time in establishing that this is not your average, dutiful stone-faced chopsockey movie. It wants you to know, up front, that Wong (Jackie Chan) is, well, a douche. In fact, he's the sort of young ruffian who would be a bastard of a side-character in any other movie from this genre. And Drunken Master takes delight it pointing this out to you every three minutes or so.
It's true, movie, we get it. Wong is a dick. He's the kind of dude that sexually harrasses women, disrespects his elders, steals from innocent people before punching them, and is punished by being forced to stand in a horse stance for 48 hours. He’s also the kind of guy that gets disowned by his father, the master of a martial arts school, for calling his cousin ugly and kicking his aunt in the space of ten minutes.
Wong is, in a word, repugnant.
So I stopped the movie for a while and went away and did some other stuff. Because nothing’s worse than when I can’t connect with the main character of a story after 30 minutes.
When I came back to it later after taking an epic nap and eating a croissant, I picked up right when Mr. Su, the titular Drunken Master, made his debut.
At that point, I was falling in love with this movie in ways that I didn’t love the previous two we've seen together. I immediately saw the bigger picture of this film’s story and how Wong’s characterization smoothly fit into its tapestry. In short, I found myself endeared, enamored, and energized with the wily spirit of Drunken Master. "Now I see why this is in most top three Kung Fu movie lists online," I said to myself. (But not out loud, because that would be corny as hell.)
What really makes Drunken Master work is the relationship between Mr. Su (played by Siu Tin Yuen) and Wong. It's literally one of the Kung Fu genre’s best master/student dynamics ever put on screen.
Instead of totally reforming Wong as a character, as you would expect any other cliche sifu to do, Su matches Wong’s rascally nature with his own wizened version of said, um, rascality. (It's totally a word, look it up.)
After meeting Mr. Su, we can't help but notice the mistake that Wong’s father was making. He was trying to force Wong into being someone that he isn’t - someone proper, scholarly and, well, conformable. This approach was entirely counterproductive, since it did nothing more than add more fuel to the figurative tire fire that are his rebellious tendencies.
It's okay, though. Good ol' Drunken Master Su knows how to guide Wong, since he is equally as rambunctious and ornery. Su becomes first man to be Wong’s true mentor, because he has the capacity to show the younger man how to channel, control, and discipline his temperament. That’s a beautiful lesson that those who've seen this have probably felt more than consciously realized.
Wonderful teacher/student dynamic aside, most of the action in Drunken Master is made up of training sequences that’ll make you sweat while having a good chuckle. And then sweat a little bit more.
Don’t be concerned, for there are plenty of showdowns and duels to quench your curiously irrational thirst for conflict. Each one is pretty memorable, too, if not amusing. But what sticks out the most in your head when the film's over are all the scenes in which Mr. Su pushes Wong to his limits by doing crazy shit to make his body stronger.
Drunken Master, however, is more than the sum of its training montages - it’s a story that fills you with a mischievous sense of courage, a feeling that you're ready to take on anything.
It’s a movie for those of us who are rough around the edges, the outcasts who need to stick together to learn how to accomplish and grow. It’s a story about finding your own family, even if they drink like a fish and have stinky feet. That’s the kind of lesson that’s always resonated with me, personally speaking.
With that context in place, I'll admit that I don’t think I’ve ever cared about characters in a Kung Fu movie as much as I’ve cared for Drunken Master’s Mr. Su and Wong. I can't tell you how many times I caught myself wishing this was a TV series. They're the kind of characters that should live in a story that shouldn't end so soon, that should face many dangers and become stronger - and drunker - together.
What else further catapults Drunken Master up to its legendary status? The actual Drunken techniques themselves, of course. Each one is based on the forms of 8 Drunken Gods from a secret book that Mr. Su carries around. (So cool, right?) Let's check them out together, shall we?
Those 8 Drunken Gods.
#1: Lu, Drunkard w/ Internal Strength
#2 - Li, Cripple w/ a Powerful Right Leg (and a Heart of Gold?)
#3 - Fat Han, something something pot
#4 - Lan, good with his hips
#5 - Chang, kicks kinda like Liu Kang
#6 - Tso, who's going to full nelson you
#7 - Han, who laughs in the face of carpal tunnel syndrome
#8 - Miss Ho, who kinda has an ironic name, doesn't she
(He's really good at that, isn't he?)
The end of Drunken Master, much like that of this article, is abrupt. Almost cruelly so. I wanted a sequel or three (Legend of Drunken Master doesn’t really count, does it?) as soon as THE END reared its nasty face on the screen. Go away signal of narrative closure!
There's just no other way to put it. Drunken Master is simply masterful, and just as amazing as you’ve heard (or read). I hate statements like this, but it must be said - if you see only one classic Jackie Chan film, it should be this one, even though Shaolin Wooden Men was excellent. Watch it now. Don't argue. Go. I'll know if you don't.
Tomorrow, Day 4 of the 7 Days of Jackie Chan tells us a certain story about the police, called Police Story. I think you'll enjoy it. Until manana, chicas.