Viking Night: Drunken Master
By Bruce Hall
May 3, 2011
Jackie Chan is one of the most accomplished action stars in the world. This probably sounds strange to Western ears but just like the metric system, for most of his career, Jackie Chan was the best kept secret in America. Some of you know what I’m talking about but for everyone else, I know you’ve seen all three Rush Hour films. I know they were huge. Maybe you even saw those silly movies he made with Owen Wilson, the ones whose titles I can’t make myself say without rolling my eyes. Oh, those wacky East/West comedies and their politically incorrect ethnic humor...
Without a doubt, Jackie Chan is one of the most recognized Asian stars in America. But in much of the rest of the world he’s more popular than Starbucks, and it isn’t because of Brett Ratner. He’s made over a hundred films, is a legitimately respected professional vocalist and is one of the world’s top stuntmen. He’s a renowned philanthropist, a successful entrepreneur and is a national hero in China. He’s retained a relevant place in the entertainment world for over 30 years and he accomplished it by standing on the shoulders of giants, and throwing himself right back off again.
Bruce Lee's death hadn’t been in the papers for a day before the race to cash in on his life began. Martial arts films were the bread and butter of Hong Kong’s action film industry, and everyone in town was looking for the right pair of fists to be The Dragon’s replacement. Jackie Chan had worked as a stuntman on a couple of Lee’s films, and to some, the athletic kid with the honest face seemed a natural candidate. The resulting movie, New Fist of Fury, was a failure at the box office. It was also meant as a direct sequel to one of Lee’s films, giving it even more of a special place in the annals of cinematic grave robbery.
Lucky for us, Jackie Chan is more than just an inadequate substitute for Bruce Lee. He’s his own man and over the course of a long and groundbreaking career, he’s earned his own legend. Chan finally came into his own with a film called Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow, his first starring role in an action comedy. But it was his next film, Drunken Master, that first took full advantage of Chan’s abilities, solidifying the genre as legitimate and immediately spawning a slew of imitators. It may be the sincerest form of flattery, but does the original live up to its reputation?
Wong (Chan) is a smart mouthed adolescent who lets his free time get him into trouble. His father runs a kung fu school so the kid knows how to fight, and his family’s wealth makes it easy for him to talk his way out of trouble. The hot tempered punk spends his days chasing women, picking fights and pushing his smug sense of entitlement around town. Soon, Wong runs afoul of one of his father’s oldest friends, and badly beats another man in a street fight, causing great embarrassment to his family. Enraged, Wong's father banishes the boy to the care of a family friend known as “Beggar Su” (Simon Yuen). Wong is put on a brutal training regimen, meant to discipline the boy and build his character. Wong resists, running away the first chance he gets.