Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Cast: Jackie Chan
Extras: ’Behind the Master’ Interview, Theatrical Trailers
Jackie Chan stars as Wong Fei Hung, a traditional Chinese folk hero portrayed in well over 100 movies. Set somewhere around 1915, the film offers up many of the well-known Fei Hung tidbits while at the same time allowing Jackie free reign to infuse the movie with his own unique blend of furious action and slapstick comedy.
During a train ride back from a trip to purchase herbal remedies for his family’s school, Fei Hung decides to circumvent customs and accidently swaps his box of ginseng for a box containing stolen Chinese artifacts. Oblivious to his mistake, Fei Hung finds himself doing battle with General Fu Wen Chi (played by the film’s original director — later replaced by Jackie Chan himself — and ex-martial arts star, Chia Liang Liu, aka Lau Kar Leung) who is determined to keep these important artifacts in China. Their sword and spear battle beneath the train is one of the best fight scenes in martial arts cinema.
The film concludes with an intricate and hair-raising battle in a foundry that is being used to smuggle out the historical relics. The final one-on-one fight features Jackie sparring with his real-life bodyguard, and kickboxing champion, Ken Lo in a scene that took over four months to train for and film. The outtakes that accompany the end credits reveal just how complex this fight scene really was.
"The Legend of Drunken Master" is presented in <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen>, preserving the 2.35:1 aspect ratio of the original theatrical release. As fans of Hong Kong cinema are well aware, decent looking prints of their favorite films are very hard to come by and I was pleasantly surprised with the overall quality evident on this release. The image is fairly sharp and steady with good color saturation and nice contrast. Black levels aren’t as deep as one would find on the latest Hollywood blockbusters but this is a fault of the source materials and not the DVD transfer process. Film grain is held to a minimum as well and there are only a handful of blemishes that mar the image. This is really as fine a transfer as one could reasonably expect for this type of film barring a full-scale restoration.
Equally off-putting is the fact that the original musical score by Wai Lap Wu was ditched and a completely new score created by Michael Wandmacher. While the new score is nice enough, it has more modern elements than the original and feels slightly out of place. Again, it’s fine to offer an alternative but please have the decency to include the original materials as well.
Also of concern is the fact that the Cantonese track had the sound effects perfectly synched with the on-screen action while the new English mix is not nearly as effective and doesn’t match each hit and kick in the same fashion as the original soundtrack.
Bearing all of that in mind, when viewed on its own merits the English Dolby Digital 5.1 track is decent enough. The front soundstage is well-balanced with the surrounds being used to good effect where appropriate and dialogue is always clearly understood. Dynamic range is a bit limited so don’t expect too much in the way of deep bass. It’s a solid soundtrack and the English dubbing is worlds better than most such voice over work but, like with every other Hong Kong movie released by Dimension Films, the lack of the original soundtrack is a real shame.
One final caveat — the domestic release of "The Legend of Drunken Master" deletes the final few seconds of the movie featuring a very drunk Wong Fei Hung displaying the after-effects of all the industrial alcohol he downed during his final fight. It’s a pretty tasteless scene and its absence in no way detracts from the film.
"The Legend of Drunken Master" surely ranks near the top of any list of the greatest martial arts movies. Featuring Jackie Chan at his best, a fine supporting cast, and expertly choreographed fight scenes, the film itself is above reproach. For those unfamiliar with this particular genre, please check your reality at the door and prepare yourself for some outlandish fun. The first shock comes from the fact that Jackie Chan is a 40-year-old actor playing a 20-year-old character and he looks much older than his stepmother and about as old as his father. The film also careens back and forth from historical drama to rousing slapstick comedy. This is standard fare for Hong Kong films put may come as a surprise to those who are new to this unusual style of filmmaking.