Watched Jul 14, 2012
I'm breaking my rule and not reviewing both times I watched this film.
I watched this on Friday night, and thought it was alright - some great fights, but nothing really stood out.
But I knew I was missing something, and I immediately turned on the commentary, which I finished the next day. The DVD commentary is by Ric Meyers, author of Great Martial Arts Movies and a friend of Jackie Chan, and Jeff Yang, author of several books including co-writer of Jackie Chan's autobiography. It provided a lot of much-needed context, and it ended with me absolutely loving this film.
A few of my favorite things I learned, which helped me to really appreciate the film - Drunken Master was pretty groundbreaking because no one had seen Wong Fei-hung portrayed in that way before. Wong Fei-hung was a pretty revered and beloved subject, featured in about 25 movies per year. He had never been portrayed as a humorous prankster before. Meyers and Yang also explained some of the humor - the broad, Cantonese comedy (the boy with the drawn-on freckles, the restaurant guy with the huge teeth), but also the much more subtle referential jokes, wordplay and insider jokes on martial arts styles.
It takes a while for me to get used to seeing and understanding stunts that don't use trickery. I have definitely been desensitized, to a certain extent, by CGI and other tricks. On first viewing, I thought the fights were just alright. But on second viewing, it really clicked - holy shit, they are doing EVERYTHING I'm seeing. I think they said that there was no wire work in this film, except once in the restaurant scene - please let me know if I heard this incorrectly. And the way that the action is shot - incredibly long takes and long shots (for an action film), letting the viewer see everything. (One of the commentators proposed that he thought the reason why a lot of the American action films were filmed so close was because they had grown up watching cropped kung fu movies on TV.)
I could go on and on, but really, you should just watch this yourself. I know I'll be watching it many more times to come.