I'm hard pressed to describe the "plot" of Jackie Chan's chop-socky 'Legend of Drunken Master' in anything resembling English. Quite frankly, I'm not sure what, exactly, went on in the movie. Still, I must say I loved it.
Jackie Chan plays a student of "drunken fighting." Beyond that, I'm not really sure what happens in this movie, despite having seen it a few times over the years. Basically, Jackie must master the art of fighting while intoxicated, fend off a band of goons pursuing an artifact of which he is in possession, avoid disgracing his family, and kick a whole lot of ass.
That's pretty much it.
'Legend of Drunken Master' starts off slow, and without much action you're just left confused and borderline bored. Still, Chan's warm, if not fully formed, performance keeps you watching. Finally, at around the forty-minute mark, the movie kicks into high gear and never lets up.
Jackie, while far from a master thespian, has some truly amazing physical abilities. He mixes the nimble physical-comedic timing of a silent screen actor, with the acrobatic styling of a Cirque du Soleil troupe member. The action sequences, directed by Chan himself, combine these styles beautifully. They're like a Jacques Tati film as choreographed by Yuen Woo-ping. Watching them is a singular, breathless experience, and there are a few sequences in this film (one in which Jackie faces off against a series of hatchet wielding enemies, as well as the big finale) that will make your jaw drop.
What this movie lacks in plot it makes up for with sheer, mind-boggling physicality. It's just an amazing spectacle, and while it might not be the masterpiece some diehards make it out to be, it's still outstanding. It's easy to see the mark that 'Legend of Drunken Master' has left on action cinema. The aforementioned hatchet gang was directly transposed into both Stephen Chow's masterful 'Kung Fu Hustle' and Quentin Tarantino's 'Kill Bill, Vol. 1.' The mixture of physical comedy and hardcore kung fu is a difficult balancing act, and Jackie is clearly a trailblazer.
Despite my complete inability to describe what actually happens in 'Legend of Drunken Master,' I still heartily recommend it. It's not a movie you sit and ruminate over, it's one you revisit again and again in order to share you favorite sequences with your friends. It's hard to imagine anyone leaving this film feeling disatisified with the action. If your friends aren't impressed, feel free to kick them in the face.
If I could not write this section of my review and just put a picture of dog poo, complete with stink lines coming off the top, then I would do that. This transfer is horrible.
Let me repeat: HORRIBLE.
First the basics: This is a 1080p VC-1 transfer (aspect ratio: 2.35:1) on a 50GB disc. It might be the worst Blu-ray transfer I've yet to witness. The amount of dirt and grain on this thing is ridiculous. It's not a slight amount of grain that adds a charming touch of actual-movie authenticity. No, it's an overwhelming, disgusting amount of grain, as well as dirt, pops, scratches, and pretty much anything you can imagine. About thirteen minutes in, a jagged white blot even crosses the screen! If I was in a theater, I would have sworn it was a lap splice. U-G-L-Y, this transfer has no alibi, it's ugly.
This transfer is muddy, it's soft, with noise reduction employed that hurts even the scenes that border on the okay-looking. All in all, it's barely watchable. Larger technical issues like artifacts and aliasing aren't around, but who cares? When a movie looks this crummy, these are but mild compliments.
I'm not intimately familiar with the previous home video releases of 'Legend of Drunken Master,' but I can't imagine this being much of an improvement. I could not believe a major studio like Disney would put out a disc with such a crappy print. And the list price for this thing is $40! Do you know how many amazing movies you could get for forty dollars? You can buy the gorgeous, brand new discs of 'New World' and 'Shaun of the Dead,' combined, for $40. This is an absolute travesty, and everyone involved should feel ashamed.
People love this movie, and as such, this could have really been a great place to find original source materials and put together a really wonderful transfer. They did not.
Again: Come on!
I guess the original Cantonese language track is lost to the ages or something, but considering the video transfer, I'm doubting that Disney did a lot of searching for the original material. Instead, we're saddled with an English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 dub (along with French Dolby Digital 5.1 and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0). The dub is atrocious. Jackie Chan dubs his own character, which isn't much consolation.
Anyway, the transfer is (again) free of any technical issues, but it still sucks. Dialogue is flat and lifeless and often gets lost in the action, the surround elements don't add much to the overall atmosphere, with action sequences getting a lot of bang-boom-pow loudness without much grace or intricacy. The entire mix lacks dimensionality and directionality - it's just kind of sonic wallpaper. If Disney was going to bungle the video, then they could have attempted to step their game up with the audio portion of this disc, but they left that to flounder as well.
This nuance-free mix is just terrible. The audio might not be as bad as the video side of things, but it's still lousy. An utter disappointment.
It also features subtitles in English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Polish.
Okay, so here's where Disney could have really redeemed themselves. Anyone familiar with Asian cinema knows English critic Bey Logan. He first oversaw the Hong Kong Legends releases in England (all amazing) and then moved over to the Weinstein Company as head of Dragon Dynasty, their martial arts imprint at least partially started by Quentin Tarantino. He would have been the perfect person to do a commentary on this, maybe produce some special features, and I understand there's bad blood between Disney and the Weinstein Company, but c'mon. It would have been great. Many regard this as a masterpiece and its influence is widespread. It deserves more than a lone EPK.
The disc is Region "A" locked.
This is a terrible disc of a really fun flick. Really, STAY FAR FAR AWAY from this thing. If you have a previous home video edition, there's no need to upgrade. With lackluster audio and video and nothing in the way of special features, high-def or otherwise, this release is borderline criminal. How anyone could charge $40 for this is beyond me. This is one of the worst Blu-rays I've ever had the displeasure of watching, and I wish this was hyperbolic exaggeration. It is not.