Drunken Master

Drunken Master (1978)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Jackie Chan, Yuen Hsiao Tieng, Huang Cheng Li
Extras: Commentary Track, Trailers

Whenever you talk to people about Martial Arts films the name ’Drunken Master’ comes up. It is one of the most beloved action comedies Hong Kong has ever produced and combines the talents of Jackie Chan and director/stunt choreographer Yuen Wo Ping in perfect unison. The humor is just right and so is the action in this film, creating an amalgam that formulated many Hong Kong films to follow.

It is the story of young martial arts student Won Fei Hung (Jackie Chan) who is constantly clowning around instead of practicing his Kung Fu. After a prank mishap caused by him, Won Fei’s father hires his uncle to teach the boy manners and Kung Fu. With a reputation to cripple his students, the uncle tries to teach the reckless young man and eventually introduces him to his own, secret style of Kung Fu, the art of the ’Drunken Boxer.’

Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment presents ’Drunken Master’ in its original 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio on this DVD in a transfer that is enhanced for 16×9 TV sets. While the transfer is generally clear, it is showing plenty of speckles and dust marks and has a grainy quality in many cases. This is very common for Hong Kong films, especially if they are as old as ’Drunken Master’ is, and most other films would look much poorer by comparison. I am also very happy to report that Columbia TriStar has also stayed away from applying too much edge-enhancement as they did with countless previous Hong Kong movies. While a slight hint of edge-enhancement is still evident, it is never distracting and appears only in selected shots. Colors appear a bit faded, giving away the film’s age but the good definition of the transfer makes up for it. Blacks are well reproduced and give the image good depth and highlights are balanced, never appearing overexposed. The compression is without flaws or artifacts.

The film is presented with its original Cantonese language track, as well as an English dub. In both cases that audio has a limited frequency response that accentuates the higher end of the spectrum. The result is a track that is harsh and without much bottom end, and with audible distortion in some cases. It is not a bad track and I felt it is suitable for the film, especially given its technical limitations and origins, as well as its age. However, the Cantonese audio track has been damaged beyond repair in certain parts and in order not to leave these parts entirely silent, Columbia TriStar decided to insert the english audio track in those scenes. It is a bit distracting but certainly better than no audio at all. So, if your version jumps between English and Cantonese audio, this is not a defect, but a necessary work-around to have the film presented in its entirety.

The disc is accompanied by an audio commentary track by Hong Kong film expert Ric Meyers who once again shines alight on various aspects of the production. Meyers is always enjoyable to listen to in his commentaries as his comments are insightful and informative while never getting boring. This track is no different and introduces viewers into the depths of the Hong Kong film industry and the unique magic of its movies.

The only other extras on the disc are trailers for ’time and Tide’ and ’Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.’

’Drunken Master’ is a reference film when it comes to Hong Kong Martial Arts comedies. Long has the film held the status as being one of the best in the field and deservedly so. Revisiting the film on this DVD allows viewers to experience it in its full glory, uncut, with an image that is detailed and rich and its original language track. What else can you ask for? This is Jackie Chan at his best… after all this is the film that made him the superstar that he is!