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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

The Legend of Drunken Master [Blu-ray]


(Lau Ka Leung, 1994)



Review by Leonard Norwitz



Theatrical: Raymond Chow, Golden Harvest, HK Stuntman Assn.

Video: Dimension Home Entertainment



Region: ALL (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 1:42:30.144

Disc Size: 26,779,865,387 bytes

Feature Size: 22,603,186,176 bytes

Average Bitrate: 22.09 Mbps

Chapters: 17

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: September 15th, 2009



Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: VC-1






DTS-HD Master Audio English 4401 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 4401 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)
Dolby Digital Audio French 640 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps
Dolby Digital Audio Spanish 320 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 320 kbps / Dolby Surround



English (SDH), English, Bulgarian, Czech, French, Hebrew, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, Turkish, none



• Behind the Master; Interview with Jackie Chan – in SD (6:35)




Come September 15, Miramax will release "The Ultimate Force of Four" – a title that doesn't bode well for the Asian martial arts movies they have had tucked away in their vaults: three from China or Hong Kong, one from Japan: Hero, Iron Monkey, The Legend of Drunken Master and Zatoichi. Typical of movies from China, much less so with Japanese films, the versions distributed in the West might be different in any number of ways: they might be cut differently, with new music, and are likely to be dubbed in English.

Prior to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon it was taken as gospel that Americans would not go to the theater to see a subtitled movie outside of an "art theatre", certainly not in numbers that would make distribution profitable. For the most part, Americans who have seen , Hong Kong movies on home video, especially those of Jackie Chan, know only the English-dubbed versions, complete with new musical cues that someone thought would be more digestible to Westerners.



With these new Blu-ray editions, Miramax had the opportunity to set the record straight – or, at least provide the original or international cut, a practice that oftentimes serves little purpose than to seduce potential buyers into believing they are getting something special. Alas, wrong-headed that it is to present in uncompressed audio only the English dub for Iron Monkey and Hero, at least those have passable Chinese tracks in Dolby Digital 5.1. Not so with The Legend of Drunken Master which, passing all understanding, has no Chinese language track of any kind.

The Movie: 7
The Legend of Drunken Master may be Jackie Chan's last great Hong Kong action movie. It has incredible stunts choreographed by Chan himself (who, uncredited, directed some of the fight sequences.) All the classic Jackie Chan moves that we see in his American movies are in full swing here.

"A Jackie Chan Film" the credits say over the title . . . . This often comic, sometimes touching, occasionally brutal movie is, at its heart, both a family drama and a gangster flic involving stolen Chinese cultural treasures. The bad guys, who are enmeshed with the British Consul, have made a deal to plunder and sell China's great treasures. Chan plays Wong Fei Hung, whose greatest prowess is a style of martial arts called drunken fighting and, like Popeye with his spinach, Fei Hung is only at his best when he drinks - a lot. The simple dynamics of the situation are that Fei Hung is torn between his respect for his father (Ti Lung) who forbids him from fighting, drunk or sober, and his desire to protect his country's culture. His stepmother (the always awesome and incredibly funny Anita Mui) sabotages the presumed head of the household as she tosses her son one bottle after another even in the middle of a fight.


Image: 3/6  NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were ripped directly from the Blu-ray disc.

The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale.  The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.


The best that can be said for this image is that it's in about the right aspect ratio and fills the frame left to right. This movie, even though only 15 years old, has not survived in the best of condition, though this may be as good as it gets. It has its share of blemishes, but that doesn't account for the transfer, which, except for brief moments here and there, has to be one of the flattest, dullest images on Blu-ray. It's murky, warm and noise reduced to the point of trashing what chance of dynamic range it might have. There's no black and no white, just the occasional boosting of skin tomes. Once in a while there is a flash of high definition sharpness or resolve, and then only in the outdoor scenes, but for the most part, this is not representative of the possibilities of the medium. In other words: don't show this to your friends as evidence of what a smart investment you made. All of which begs the question: Is this how it once looked at its best, to which I can only say I haven't a clue, but I certainly hope not. The fact that it bests previous North American DVDs is little solace.















Audio & Music : 4/5

Let's get the bad news out of the way first: The Legend of Drunken Master has no Chinese language track! Not compressed, or uncompressed, or hidden as an Easter Egg. It boggles the mind. But if we can get past that, the audio isn't really so bad, as long as no one is speaking. We have only to put up with Engrish speaking actors – the native English speakers are worse speaking actors - which is a bizarre concept in the first place (Chan dubs himself, for what that's worth.) I exaggerate, but not by much. I understand that the original HK dialogue was looped with other actors to start with, a practice I imagine they thought they could import from the Italians, so perhaps the question is moot. Still, no reason not to include it, since the music might be different as well. In any case, the dialogue is oddly and disproportionately mixed, rarely making sense with the action that surrounds it. This movie was never a surrounding experience to start with, so we should not be surprised to find a mostly front directed mix that makes little use of surrounds except in fight and crowd scenes or in the "arena" when our heroes are captured.


Operations : 7

The menu functions are clearly laid out with descriptions and timings of each feature. I don't much care for the disproportionately large and, on my OPPO, non-removable time line during fast forward and back.




Extras : 2

In this six and a half minute featurette in standard definition, Jackie looks back on how he creates his stunts – timing his comments with a stream of snippets from archival footage going way back. He speaks (in English, by the way) about the rhythm of his fights, his comedy, and some of the training that goes into each fight. Referring to his Chinese audience, Chan insists that the impression of reality is preferred to the fantasy of special effects (note the absence of wire work in Chan's movies). Chan toots his horn, but he has the creds to do so.


Recommendation : 3

We can only hold out hope for a HK edition that offers the original audio and where we can be satisfied that the image really is as good as can be. Rent it if you must. And you must, if you've never seen it, for The Legend of Drunken Master is one of the classics of the genre.


Leonard Norwitz
September 13th, 2009


About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.

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