The film's protagonist Wong Fei-hung was a Chinese martial artist, a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner and a revolutionary who lived towards the end of the Qing Dynasty. He became a Chinese folk hero and the subject of several Hong Kong television programmes and films. Beggar So, who plays a supporting role in the film, is also another character from Chinese folklore and one of the Ten Tigers of Canton. The Beggar So character is often cast as an associate of Wong Fei-hung or Wong's uncle.
The plot centers on a young and mischievous Wong Fei-hung (sometimes dubbed as "Freddie Wong"). Wong runs into a series of troubles. Firstly, he teaches an overbearing assistant martial arts teacher a lesson. Next, he makes advances on a woman to impress his friends, and is soundly thrashed by her older female guardian as a result; his shame is compounded when these two are later revealed to be his visiting aunt and cousin, whom he had not met before. Lastly, he beats up a hooligan who is the son of an influential man in town. His father decides to punish him for his behavior by making him train harder in martial arts.
Wong's father arranges for Beggar So to train his son in martial arts. Beggar So has a reputation for crippling his students during training so Wong flees from home in an attempt to escape his punishment. Penniless, he stops at a restaurant and tries to con a fellow patron into offering him a free meal. As he was about to leave after his meal, he discovers that the man is actually the owner of the restaurant. He fights with the owner's lackeys in an attempt to escape. An old drunkard nearby is drawn into the fight and helps him escape. The drunkard turns out to be Beggar So, the Drunken Master. (Beggar So is known in some versions of the film as Sam Seed, So Hi or Su Hua-chi)
Beggar So forces Wong into his brutal and rigorous training programme. Wong flees again to avoid the torturous training and runs into the notorious killer Yim Tit-sam (known in some versions as Thunderfoot or Thunderleg) by accident. Yim is known for his "Devil's Kick", a swift and deadly kicking style which has never been defeated. Wong provokes and challenges him to a fight and is soundly defeated and humiliated. He makes his way back to Beggar So and decides to commit himself to the Drunken Master's training program.
The training resumes and soon Wong learns Beggar So's secret style of martial arts, a form of Drunken Boxing called "The Eight Drunken Immortals", named after the eight xian that the fighting style references. Wong masters seven of the eight styles with the exception of Drunken Miss Ho's as he feels that her style of fighting is too feminine.
Meanwhile, Yim Tit-sam is contracted by a business rival to kill Wong's father. Wong's father fights with Yim and is defeated and injured by him. Wong and Beggar So arrive on the scene on time and Wong continues the fight with Yim. Beggar So promises not to interfere in the fight. Wong employs the new skills he has learned and outmatches Yim's kicking style. Yim then resorts to his secret technique, the Devil's Shadowless Hand, which is too fast for Wong to defeat. Wong confesses that he did not master the last style so Beggar So tells him to combine the seven styles and create his own version of the last style. Wong follows the instruction and discovers his own unique style of Drunken Miss Ho, which he uses to overcome the Shadowless Hand and finally defeat Yim.Jackie Chan as Wong Fei-hung / Freddy Wong (UK version)
Yuen Siu-tien (or Simon Yuen) as Beggar So / Sam Seed
Hwang Jang Lee as Thunderleg / Thunderfoot
Dean Shek as Professor Kai-hsien
Lam Kau as Wong Kei-ying / Robert Wong (UK version)
Fung King-man as Mr. Lee Man-ho
Hsu Hsia as King of Bamboo Hsu Ching-tien
Linda Lin as Wong Fei-hung's aunt
Yuen Shun-yi as Chan Kwok-wai / Charlie Wei
Tong Jing as Wong Fei-hung's cousin
Tino Wong as Jerry Lee
Yuen Woo-ping as Man with bucket of greens
According to his book I Am Jackie Chan: My Life in Action, Chan nearly lost an eye after his brow ridge was injured.
A number of notable fights are featured in the film, almost all of them with strong elements of comedy - from the game of Keep Away with Wong Kei-ying's cocky, but incompetent, assistant kung fu instructor, to the novel "head-fu" fighting style used by one of his opponents. The film features the Hung Ga system of fighting, which was historically practiced by Wong Fei-hung and his father Wong Kei-ying, both of whom are major characters in the film. The animal styles of Snake, Crane, and Tiger performed in the film are derived wholly from the Hung Ga system and bear only a tangential relationship to the Fujian White Crane, Lama Pai (Tibetan White Crane), Black Tiger, and Snake systems of kung fu. Monkey style kung fu, popular in Southern Chinese martial arts performances, is also shown briefly.
Numerous systems of kung fu include "Drunken Boxing" forms (e.g. Choi Lei Fut and Drunken Monkey), and the Taoist Eight Immortals are popular staples of Chinese culture and art. However, the "Eight Drunken Immortals" forms depicted in this film are likely the creation of director and choreographer Yuen Woo-ping and based on routines found in other systems.
The primary villain in Drunken Master is played by Hwang Jang-lee, a Korean martial artist specialising in Taekwondo and known for his high-flying kicks, which are prominently displayed in the film. The systems of "Devil's Kick" and "Devil's Shadowless Hands" employed by Thunderleg are entirely fictitious.
Drunken Master earned an impressive HK$6,763,793 at the Hong Kong box office.Drunken Master was a semi-sequel to the 1978 film Snake in the Eagle's Shadow, which featured the same cast and director.
Drunken Master II (1994) did star Jackie Chan, and is considered the only official sequel. However the film is a reboot and doesn't treat the first film's plot as canon, despite Chan portraying the same character. The US release of the film in 2000 was entitled The Legend Of Drunken Master.
In 1979 Yuen Siu-tien reprised the role of Beggar So in the film Dance of the Drunk Mantis, which is entitled Drunken Master Part 2 (not to be confused with Drunken Master II noted above) in some releases. The film, which was again directed by his son, Yuen Woo-ping, does not feature Jackie Chan, focusing instead on the drunken beggar character rather than on Wong Fei-hung. It is therefore generally considered to be a spinoff rather than a true sequel.
Yuen played this same role again in the films Story of Drunken Master and World of the Drunken Master.
In 2010 Yuen Woo-ping returned to directing with True Legend, which could be called a prequel to Drunken Master as it explains why Beggar Su (played by Vincent Zhao) turns to drinking.
As with many successful Hong Kong action films, several films were released in the wake of Drunken Master (and its sequel) that could be considered to trade on the fame of the original films. These had less in common with the original films than the spinoffs starring Yuen Siu-tien. They include:5 Superfighters (aka The Drunken Fighter) (1978)
Drunken Swordsman (aka Drunken Dragon Strikes Back) (1979)
Drunken Arts and Crippled Fist (Featuring Li Yi Min) (1979)
Drunken Master, Slippery Snake (Starring Cliff Lok) (1979)
Shaolin Drunken Monkey (Starring Elton Chong) (1981)
The Shaolin Drunken Monk (starring Gordon Liu) (1982)
Drunken Tai Chi (directed by Yuen Woo-ping and starring Donnie Yen) (1984)
Revenge of the Drunken Master (1984), starring Johnny Chan, whose name allowed him to trade off his more successful namesake in other low-budget martial arts films including Golden Dragon, Silver Snake (1979) and The Eagles Killer (1978)
Drunken Master III (aka Drunken Master Killer) - starring Andy Lau (1994)
The Little Drunken Masters (1995)
Not all films that feature the Zui Quan "Drunken Fist" style (or variations on it) can be considered as imitators of the Drunken Master films. Films such as Drunken Monkey (2002) may feature a drunken style of kung fu, and in the case of The Forbidden Kingdom (2008), the same principal star, but they have a fundamentally different plot and sufficiently different title to separate them from Drunken Master.On 24 April 2000, Hong Kong Legends released a DVD in the United Kingdom. The image is cropped from 2:35:1 to 1:78:1 and has the Mandarin soundtrack with dubtitles. However, it has a number of additional features including a deleted scene and an interview with producer Ng See-yuen.
On 2 April 2002, Columbia Pictures released a DVD in the United States. Despite a 2:35:1 image and the inclusion of the original Cantonese track, the audio is incomplete in some sections (reverting to the English dub) and contains dubtitles. There's an audio commentary by Ric Meyers and Jeff Yang.
On 18 March 2004, HKVideo released a "Wong Fei Hung" DVD boxset in France containing this film (French title: "Le maître chinois") and two others. It contains a full 2:35:1 image and the Cantonese soundtrack. However, it contains slightly poorer image quality and no English subtitles.
On 30 April 2004, Mei Ah Entertainment released a remastered DVD in Hong Kong (pictured right). It contains a 2:35:1 image, Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 track, original Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track and Mandarin Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track. Subtitles include Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese and English. The missing Cantonese for the opening has been re-dubbed in Cantonese and the other missing Cantonese scenes as extended footage in Mandarin due to trouble of re-dubbing with new voice actors. Many short lines missing Cantonese had been removed. Special features include Extended footage, accessed during the film by selecting the wine jug icon when it appears on the right top corner, Mastering the Drunken Master, a 35-second music video with clips of Jackie Chan practicing the 8 Drunken Gods from the film, film synopsis and cast & crew.
PanMedia released a bootleg DVD that contains the complete Cantonese track.
In the Dragon Ball series, when the first tournament is held, Kame-Sennin is disguised as "Jackie Chun" and he tries to use a Drunken Fist technique on Son Goku. Author Akira Toriyama said that Drunken Master was one of his major inspirations for the Dragon Ball series.
The PlayStation game Jackie Chan Stuntmaster includes a bonus level in which he wears his traditional Drunken Master dress and drinks wine while fighting. He even gives the Drunken Punch as his charge punch throughout the game.
In popular PC online game Guild Wars, there is a stance-skill called "Drunken Master" which temporarily increases movement and attack speed. This effect is doubled if character is drunk.
In The King of Fighters series, the character Chin Gentsai was modeled after Su Hua Chi.
Jamaican musicians Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare, and The Revolutionaries recorded a reggae song called Drunken Master which was released in 1981 by Island on an album called Sly and Robbie Present Taxi.
In the Naruto series, one of the characters 'Rock Lee' is seen performing similar fighting styles after consuming alcohol. Known as the 'Drunken Fist' in the series' Japanese version and the 'Loopy Fist' in the English.
The Tekken video game series features a character named Lei Wu Long, a Hong Kong detective based on Jackie Chan's Police Story films. While the character was originally nicknamed Supercop after the film Police Story 3: Supercop Lei Wu Long uses 5 to 6+ stances which have all of Jackie Chan's signature film movies. Initially in the series it focused on the Snake style he created for Snake in The Eagles Shadow. In Street Fighter X Tekken released in 2012, Lei Wulong's "Ultimate Stance" is "Drunken Fist" based on his performance in the 1978 original and the 1994 sequel.
UK Dubstep artist FuntCase used speech samples taken from the film in his song "Half drunk".
The Hip-hop artist Hona Costello used the title and the starring actor's name Jackie Chan for his song, "Drunken Master".