When I first watched Yuen Woo-Ping’s 1978 kung fu slapsticker Drunken Master in 2000 (back then referred to as “the year 2000” to avoid confusion with the B-boy dance move), it was in a language it wasn’t spoken in (Mandarin), in an aspect ratio it wasn’t shot in (16:9) and on a DVD that British distributor Hong Kong Legends assured fans could never be bettered due to non-existent source materials. A couple of years later, it would announce a “platinum edition” in the original Cantonese and 2.35:1 ratio. It never materialised before the company went bust.
Slow-forward 17 years and the much better label Masters of Cinema have this week granted Jackie Chan fans (“Chans”?) the film in all its boozy glory on blu-ray. It’s still a treat in HD – a reminder of how artistically-minded Chan was even in his filmy infancy, choreographing his balletic batterings with an editor’s mindset – no coverage, no reverse angles, just the pieces needed. Hitchcock would storyboard his visions months ahead for pinpoint accuracy, but Chan’s fights – while no less specific in his much-concussed noggin – were dreamt up primarily on set upon eyeing up what props had bothered to chuck around or through late night chats in the bar with Woo-Ping. Yet all would still have been meticulously worked out before the cameras rolled – no shit-covered walls here.
In the blu-ray extras, 60+ Chan laments his “irresponsibility” at promoting alcoholism in the film as well as lauds his resolution to make “healthy action” cinema, as opposed to the “pornography, war films and violence” of other filmmakers. Nice Guy Jackie certainly has been frequently revealed as morally-conscious – notably in 2014 when he publicly shamed his own son for smoking weed. Chan’s black and white ethics fittingly seem to belong to the departed era when Chinese action films reigned at the worldwide box office. We really couldn’t get enough of this good guy vs bad guy stuff in the 90s, culminating in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon‘s reign at the 2001 Oscars – six months before events in New York changed things somewhat. Good and evil have been portrayed ever more ambiguously in film since then – leaving Jackie and friends to mostly just reminisce of “healthier” times.