Filmart: When Jackie Chan Became a Drunken Master at the Box Office

'Drunken Master'

The film established the success of the comedic kung fu genre and eventually led to its star's Hollywood crossover.

“You think that you’re the only master here? Well, let me tell you, my drunk gods don’t mess around — nobody can fight like they do!” says Jackie Chan in the memorable final showdown in Drunken Master, the 1978 movie that launched the action-comedy star into mainstream success. 

Marking choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping's directorial debut, the film stars Chan as an immature young man who attempts to thwart an assassin by mastering the Zui Quan (or “drunken fist”) fighting style — meaning Chan’s usually precise kung fu moves and elaborate stunts are drenched (sometimes literally) in alcohol. What results are now-iconic action sequences centering on a wobbly, wide-eyed Chan, hitting physical-comedy punchlines while effectively beating mobs of opponents.

“It’s much more difficult — every shot, every scene, you have to create the fighting with the smiling eyes,” he later explained of shooting Drunken Master which, of course, features Chan choreographing and performing daring stunts himself. “This movie, I’m so proud of myself. It’s not a modern film — we don’t have the car chase scene, airplane or helicopter, but ... I created a different style especially for the movie. Very few people can do that.”

Still considered one of the greatest Hong Kong movies of all time, Drunken Master greatly outperformed Chan’s break-out starrer Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow at the local box office — earning a whopping $6.7 million in Hong Kong — and has since spawned multiple sequels and spinoffs, each showcasing the Zui Quan fighting style. Even more so, it established the success of the comedic kung fu genre — further cemented by The Young Master, Police Story and Armour of God — and eventually led to his Hollywood crossover with Rumble in the Bronx, Who Am I? and the Rush Hour and Shanghai Noon films. He was repeatedly given creative control over his stunt work, and occasionally co-directed the films.

At the Governors Awards in November, Chan became the first person of Chinese descent to receive an honorary Oscar. “After 56 years in the film industry, making more than 200 films, after so many broken bones — finally, this is mine,” said the 62-year-old actor with his own golden statue in hand. In his speech, he recalled seeing one at Sylvester Stallone’s house 23 years ago: “I touched it, I kissed it, I smelled it, I believe it still has my fingerprints!”

Chan thanked his hometown Hong Kong for making him “proud to be Chinese,” and Hollywood for “teaching me so many things and making me a little bit famous.” As for his fans, they’re the reason “I continue to make movies, jumping into windows, kicking, punching and breaking my bones.”

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