There are few true icons of martial arts cinema. There are plenty of actors that have starred in martial arts film but most of them aren’t iconic. Some examples are of course Bruce Lee, but also Chuck Norris, Sho Kosugi, and there’s Jackie chan. Before the emails start rolling in, yes there are many other icons those are just the first ones that come to mind. Jackie Chan stands out because he successfully executes amazing martial arts action and at the same time brings slapstick comedy to many of his films. The Legend of Drunken Master is one of Chan’s classics.
Many martial arts films follow a specific formula such as a rival dojo wants to destroy the underdog dojo but there are amazing fighters in the small dojo that will defend their master to the death. This film doesn’t follow that formula for its story. The film in fact doesn’t have much of a story at all. The plot is really just a way of stitching a bunch of fantastic fight scenes together that are also filled with some truly hilarious slapstick gags. Sure, this sounds like a film I should be ripping points from left and right but honestly it’s just so much fun that it rises above its failings. The most important part of the film is that Chan’s character studies the art of drunken kung fu. He must be intoxicated to fight. This of course leads to humorous scenes of Chan drinking a great deal before and during fights. Chan’s mother isn’t a fan of him drinking, also leading to hilarity.
The fight scenes come a little too late in the film, somewhere after the half hour mark, but when they begin they leave an impression that’s not likely to ever happen again. The fights, directed by Jackie Chan himself, are some of the greatest martial arts scenes ever put on film. When you add the humor to those scenes you find something truly special. There would be no Stephen Chow (Shaolin Soccer, Kung Fu Hustle) without this film.
If I have to get into the story a bit suffice it to say that Chan is in possession of an artifact some bad guys want and he must fight them to keep it. At the same time he must respect his family by not humiliating them. There’s truly not much more to it than that. Chan has great charisma with his family and some really funny moments with his mother. None of these actors are Shakespearian but they are perfect for the roles they play here. It’s not deep at all but wow is it a really good time. Legend of Drunken Master plot wise isn’t the classic it has been made out to be but the fight scenes and the use of humor do make it one of the most influential films in the genre of all time. This is before cgi and before Chan had to start using stunt doubles. Everything you see on screen he actually does. When the credits roll your jaw will have dropped many times.
The film is presented in 1080p VC-1 with the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio on the blu-ray disc. That sounds good right? Don’t get too excited. The presentation is coated in a super thick layer of grain along with tons of dirt, scratches, and pops that come from worn out source material. The most offensive part of this transfer is within the first 15 minutes or so of the film a jagged white artifact appears on screen! It appears that not one bit of work was done on this film to make it look any better than the worst Asian bootleg version of it. The film deserves better than this for a transfer. Detail is almost nonexistent and black levels are really murky. This transfer overall is just plain insulting.
The first offense is that there’s no original language track with subtitles. Instead there’s a Dolby TrueHD English dub for the soundtrack. Chan does an ok job dubbing his own character but every other character is horribly represented. The only dub I’ve seen worse is the horrible dub for a film called The Crimson Rivers where every character had heavy New York accents and the movie was set in Canada. Dynamic range is awful and level balancing is nonexistent. You’ll ride the volume on this one a bit to hear all of the dialogue which often gets mixed out. There is a bit of surround usage but it lacks depth and there’s absolutely no subtly to the presentation. The audio overall is just aggressive and unbalanced.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The single disc release comes packaged in a standard amaray case with the same art as the original DVD release. The art is just a little bland honestly featuring a lot of white space.
The only bonus feature on this disc is a marketing style interview with star Jackie Chan. It’s very brief running only about six minutes and the Q&A doesn’t offer up any real information about the film. In fact some of Chan’s comments are hard to follow.
Why didn’t Disney go to The Midnight Eye, the folks who know all things Asian cinema for some commentaries or featurettes? There’s just nothing here that’s redeeming.
What an amazingly disappointing blu-ray presentation! This is a classic film for sure but it just doesn’t get any respect from Disney at all. I foresee a double dip for this film in the future….
Overall (Not an Average) 5/10
The Movie 7/10
The Video 2/10
The Audio 5/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 2/10
Overall (Not an Average) 5/10