Legacies of the Drunken Master: Politics of the Body in Hong Kong Kung Fu Comedy Films

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Hardback: $80.00
ISBN-13: 9780824881573
Published: April 2020
Paperback: $30.00
ISBN-13: 9780824889715
Published: January 2021

Additional Information

254 pages | 26 b&w illustrations
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  • About the Book
  • In 1978 the films Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and Drunken Master, both starring a young Jackie Chan, caused a stir in the Hong Kong cinema industry and changed the landscape of martial arts cinema. Mixing virtuoso displays of acrobatic kung fu with knockabout humor to huge box office success, they broke the mold of the tragic and heroic martial arts film and sparked not only a wave of imitations, but also a much longer trend for kung fu comedies that continues to the present day.

    Legacies of the Drunken Master—the first book-length analysis of kung fu comedy—interrogates the politics of the films and their representations of the performing body. It draws on an interdisciplinary engagement with popular culture and an interrogation of the critical literature on Hong Kong and martial arts cinema to offer original readings of key films. These readings pursue the genre in terms of its carnival aesthetic, the utopias of the body it envisions, its highly stylized depictions of violence, its images of masculinity, and the registers of its “hysterical” laughter.

    The book’s analyses are carried out amidst kung fu comedy’s shifting historical contexts, including the aftermath of the 1960s radical youth movements, the rapidly globalizing colonial enclave of Hong Kong and the emerging consciousness of its 1997 handover to China, and the transnationalization of cinema audiences. It argues that through kung fu comedy’s images of the body, the genre articulated in complex and often contradictory ways political realities relevant to late twentieth-century Hong Kong and the wider conditions of globalized capitalism. The kung fu comedy entwines us in a popular cultural history that stretches into the folk past and forward into utopian and dystopian possibilities.

    Theoretically rich and critical, Legacies of the Drunken Master aims to be at the forefront of scholarship on martial arts cinema. It also addresses readers with a broader interest in Hong Kong culture and politics during the 1970s and 1980s, postcolonialism in East Asia, and action and comedy films in a global context—as well as those fascinated with the performing body in the martial arts.

  • About the Author(s)
    • Luke White, Author

      Luke White is senior lecturer in visual culture and fine art at Middlesex University, London.
    • Allison Alexy, Series Editor

      Allison Alexy is assistant professor in the Department of Women’s Studies and the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Michigan.
  • Reviews and Endorsements
    • This brilliant book is a breakthrough in several respects. For Hong Kong cinema and martial arts studies alike it offers the first intellectually serious book-length study in English of kung fu comedy. For cultural studies, author Luke White enlists a supple and sophisticated model that considers social and political contexts across a globally popular entertainment genre that does not easily lend itself to an allegorical reading of stories and themes. For the broad field of cultural theory, the book shows how it is possible to bring a European canon of thought to bear on cultural production in post-colonial contexts beyond the West without hollowing the latter out to demonstrate the interpretive power of the former.
      —Meaghan Morris, University of Sydney
    • White [has produced] an assiduously researched, commendably nuanced, and extraordinarily rich investigation of martial arts cinema history generally and the kung fu comedy specifically. . . . It is one thing to produce a new standard text. That is hard enough, and I believe that White has succeeded in creating a new standard text for scholars interested in martial arts cinema. It is another thing to produce a new text that raises the scholarly bar. This is even harder to do, yet I believe that White has succeeded in doing this, too.
      —Kyle Barrowman, DePaul University and Columbia College Chicago, Martial Arts Studies, 10 (Fall 2020)
    • Legacies of the Drunken Master is a highly structured, tightly planned, and well-written application of theory in critique of Hong Kong kung fu comedy films from the 1970s and their thematic legacy through the present. Luke White is very specific in his choice of theories and appropriately circumspect in the application thereof, which are lucidly described and consistently applied throughout his analysis. . . . In the process of establishing his analytical framework, White surveys the critical field and its trends over the past decades in both his introduction and throughout the body of the study, which is finely illuminating even if the reader may or may not agree with the author's choice of theories or assessments.
      —Paul B. Foster, Georgia Tech, China Review International, 26:1 & 2 (2019)
    • In this fascinating and fun exploration of the kung fu comedic body in Hong Kong cinema, White uses the 1978 film Drunken Master as a locus to engage a number of lenses, contextualizations, and comparatives on the influence and legacy of kung fu comedy. . . . Accessible, wide‐ranging, and insightful in its analysis, this volume is a welcome addition to the martial‐arts cinema shelf and also deserves to be read as an exemplary interdisciplinary work on the literal body politic. . . . Essential.
      —K. J. Wetmore Jr., Loyola Marymount University, CHOICE, 58:8 (April 2021)
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