Review for The World of Drunken Master
Fan Ta-Pei and Beggar So became legends when it came to the Drunken Fist style of kung-fu, but until now, no one knew how their legends began. Quite naturally, a girl was involved. Years previously, Fan Ta-Pei and Beggar So were rival street vendors, vendors who stole the fruit that they sold from a nearby vineyard. They got caught by Chang Qi, and were put to work in the winery until their debts were repaid. Chang Qi was also a Drunken Master, and imparted his knowledge to his larcenous students, which was useful and timely, given that Tiger Yeh and his minions were in town, throwing their weight around, extorting protection money. The girl? That would be the daughter of the winery owner, the one person who was kind to So and Ta-Pei.
The World of Drunken Master gets a 2.35:1 widescreen 1080p transfer, with the choice between PCM 1.0 Mono Mandarin, Cantonese, and English with optional subtitles and signs. It’s another impressive restoration and transfer for this vintage kung fu film. The image is clear and sharp, with excellent detail and rich and consistent colours. The production value comes across in the period set design, but once again, the seams really do show in the old age make-up. I went with the Cantonese audio and was happy with the experience. It’s mono of course, and limited by the era in which it was recorded, but there are no glitches or drop-outs, and thankfully no noticeable distortion at high volumes or frequencies. The subtitles are timed accurately and are free of typos.
Here you get an audio commentary from Frank Djeng and Michael Worth.
When it comes to the Drunken Fist style of kung-fu, you instantly get a martial arts style that is tailor made for comedy, which is instantly a plus for my tastes. The problem that The World of Drunken Master has is that it exists in a world where the Jackie Chan movies Drunken Master, and Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow have already set the benchmarks for the sub-genre. It’s clear that the creators recognise this, as they begin the film with a cameo from Simon Yuen, who played the Beggar So character in those two films, playing under the opening credits here. That’s all you get though, and he’s not in the film proper.
Having said all of that, The World of Drunken Master turned out to be pretty entertaining. One issue is that it is action packed, full of kung-fu, both comedy and serious, and it’s packed to the detriment of narrative and character. It’s not such an issue here, as the action is really the whole point, and it’s really well done, still stylistic and aesthetically oriented, but impactful and meaningful enough to make the fights seem motivated by emotion. It certainly doesn’t seem as dancelike as it did in The 36 Deadly Styles.
The film has a nice framing device, introducing the older Fan Ta-Pei and Beggar So, both masters of the Drunken Fist style, and both more devoted to the Drunken aspects than is healthy. Ta-Pei is being constantly challenged by other fighters, with the rumour that someone is seeking vengeance against him for an incident years previously, preying on his mind. So the questions are posed as to what that event was, and just why are the two Drunken Fist masters intent on drowning their sorrows?
Thus the flashback begins which comprises much of the film, back when they were rival street vendors both stealing the goods that they sell. Their rivalry often brings them to blows, yet they certainly lack for skills. It’s when they’re put to work at the winery, with a whole lot of heavy lifting to do, that they begin to gain in strength and agility. It’s when they stand up against the town bullies that Chang Qi, the man who put them to work, sees something good in them, and starts teaching them kung fu. But the bullies are backed by Tiger Yeh, a man with kung fu of his own, and as the film progresses, the tone turns from light and comedic to a more serious dramatic intent.
Compared to the still rather traditional and formulaic World of Drunken Master, the first choice will always be Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master, but this film is put together well enough, the story holds the attention, light though it is, while the characters are enough to make the comedy work, and the drama evokes the right emotions in the viewer.
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