Jackie Chan as Wong Fei-Hung
Yuen Sieu-Tien as Begger So
Hwang Jang Lee as Thunderleg
Lam Kau as Wong Kei-Ying
Linda Lin as Fei-Hung’s aunt
Jing Tang as Fei-Hung’s cousin
Believe it or not, Jackie Chan has played a character who isn’t an unequivocal good guy. Much, much, earlier in his career, Jackie played at least one flawed character. That was a spoiled rich kid in Drunken Master.
Wong Fei-Hung is the son of nobleman Wong Kei-Ying. But Kei-Ying is less of a father than a businessman, for Fei-Hung has a tendency to do immature things like play pranks on Kei-Ying’s assistant martial arts teacher. Fei-Hung finally crosses the line when he tries to take advantage of an attractive girl who turns out to be his cousin. Kei-Ying comes to realize that he can’t properly teach his son, so he sends him away to an eccentric sensei known only as Beggar So. So is everything Fei-Hung is not: low income and living a hard life. And he seems to have a twisted sense of humor, taking great pleasure out of putting Fei-Hung through seemingly torturous exercises. But does So’s training serve a greater purpose than sadism?
The performances are great! Jackie plays a spoiled kid in this movie and does it well. We can also believe his change in attitude as the rough training he gets teaches him discipline and humility. Yuen Sieu-Tien does a good job as the wise mentor with a sense of humor. Like most of these chop socky comedies, Drunken Master has a villain. Although, as Thunderleg, he’s not incorporated into the movie in the best way — more on that later, Hwang Jang Lee plays a pretty good one — cold and ruthless.
The characters and plot are also well-written. Whether it’s Fei-Hung maturing under So, So demonstrating his humor and surprising wisdom, or Kei-Ying getting mad and disappointed at his son, we can see the characters grow. Additionally, the plot has many twists and turns.
The soundtrack is very underrated. Great music helps us get into the movie a great deal. This wasn’t the only 1970’s movie with an awesome soundtrack. Godfather, Star Wars, Superman: the Movie, Three Muscateers, Drunken Master… they must not make movie music like they used to.
But I mentioned earlier that Thunderleg isn’t squeezed in very well. His chance encounters and eventual climatic battle with Fei-Hung are set up too conveniently by half. And while the action is choreographed fantastically, almost all the fights are extremely one-sided. All but two fights are ass-stompings in which the loser is lucky to ever land a blow. What is this, the NBA playoffs?
Regardless, Drunken Master is definitely one of my favorites in both the comedy and action genres. It’s just far from perfect.
Overall: 8 out of 10