Jackie Chan: Emergence of a Superstar Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: An Enjoyable Six-Pack of Chan’s Early Films

Jackie Chan Emergence of a Superstar Poster

Jackie Chan movies entered into the Criterion Collection in 2019 with the one-two punch of Police Story/Police Story 2. The martial-arts actor gets a bigger footprint in the collection with the release of Jackie Chan: Emergence of a Superstar, a sextet of films released over a seven-year period spread across four Blu-ray discs. With most of the entries, it’s clear why Chan became known as the Clown Prince of Kung Fu.

Buy The Criterion Collection’s Jackie Chan – Emergence of a Superstar

Billed as “Jacky Chan,” he is the star, co-writer, and martial-arts director of Half a Loaf of Kung Fu (1978). After an extended opening title sequence where he appears in a variety of outfits, Jiang (Chan) applies for a job as bodyguard but fails to get it. Later, he poses as a martial-arts master, which causes him more trouble than he anticipates.

It’s interesting that Chan wears a bowl cut as his antics bring to mind Moe of the Three Stooges, such as when he is throwing eggs at his opponents in a henhouse and hitting people with a log. He also uses a man’s wig like they are a pair of nunchucks. In another movie reference, after getting roughed up by a foursome, Jiang finds a green plant and eats it as the Popeye theme plays. Director Chen Chi-hwa plays with camera speeds for laughs and uses goofy sound effects.

In Spiritual Kung Fu (1978), Chan plays Yi Lang, a student at a martial-arts temple, and also served as the stunt coordinator. A ninja breaks into temple compound and steals the long-thought-lost Seven Deadly Fists manual. The book is given to the villainous Lu Qing, who wants to forego tradition and be designated the master of martial-arts world. He is willing to kill those who get in the way.

Five mischievous spirits haunt the temple. Yi Lang tames them, briefly, and discovers an old copy of Five Style Fists. He trains with ghosts and monks, which goes on a bit long, and eventually battles Lu Qing for supremacy. The supernatural aspects of the story are a bit silly, especially in the execution. The palace intrigue about who is working with Lu Qing is much more engaging.

The Fearless Hyena (1979) is Jackie Chan’s directorial debut, a film he also served as co-writer, actor, and martial-arts choreographer. Hing-lung (Chan) is trained by his grandfather Chen Pang-fei, but Chen doesn’t want Hing-lung revealing his skills. However, upon realizing what a great fighter he is becoming, he starts making money off his new abilities. He gets hired at a school and takes on challengers for the master, dressing as a cross-eyed fool and as a woman. In the latter case, the fighter doesn’t know whether to fight the disguised Hing-lung or kiss him.

Word of Hing-lung’s technique gets out because he has draws so much attention. This causes Yen Tien-fa, an old rival of Chen Pang-fei, to seek the grandfather out. Hing-lung seeks revenge against Yen Tien-fa, but first has to train intensely under his grandfather’s old friend. There are many funny fights, such as when Hing unknowingly trains with chopsticks while trying to eat a meal, but the final battle is brutal.

From its title, Fearless Hyena II (1983) sounds like it should be a sequel but after watching the film, it seems more like a business decision by producers and investors to cover for the mess that is the final product. Unfortunately for the business people, Chan left the production and broke his contract with Lo Wei Motion Picture Company to join Golden Harvest studio.Rather than scrap the film, producer Wei used stunt doubles and footage, including outtakes, from The Fearless Hyena and Spiritual Kung Fu to complete it.

The film opens with the villainous duo Heaven and Earth and their minions battling the Yin-Yang brotherhood with two men and their young sons escaping. Twenty years later, the boys, Ching Lung (Chan) and Tung (Austin Wai Tin Chi), have grown up but not amounted to much with Tung being so lazy he devises contraptions, which Rube Goldberg would appreciate, to help start his day. When their fathers are murdered, the young men must train to avenge them. Nice to see Eun-joo Im as Ling get to show off her skills, although weird that Chan gives her a kiss while they fight.

Speaking of Golden Harvest, The Young Master (1980) is the first movie he made with them and the second time he directed. He also served as Martial-arts co-director and is credited as a co-writer on some websites. Lung (Chan) and his brother Keung are orphans who were adopted by a school. Lung serves the school during an elaborately choreographed lion dance contest. Keung helps another school, and after he gets caught sneaking in a prostitute in, he is sent away. He joins up with that other school and helps them free the leader’s brother, Master Kam, a criminal and skilled fighter. Lung gets mistaken for Keung who is now branded an outlaw.

In addition to the dragon, there are very good action sequences. Highlights have fighters using a fan, a bench, swords, and even wearing a skirt. Ultimately, Lung has to recapture Kam to save his brother, but the villain doesn’t make it easy in their savage encounter.

After watching My Lucky Stars (1985), it seems a tad out of place in this set or should be listed as a Special Feature. Chan has minor role in this second entry in the Lucky Stars franchise, which is directed by and stars Sammo Hung.

Set in modern times, small-time crook Kidstuff (Hung) is offered parole from jail if he helps the Hong Kong police catch a corrupt cop who stole a billion dollars worth of gems and fled to Japan to seek protection from a Yakuza outfit known as the Scarecrow Club. Kidstuff assembles four friends, who are also minor criminals. It is made known they robbed a bank so they can pose as fugitives.

The quintet are overseen by Poison Ivy, a beautiful police woman, and there are a few scenes where they act like creeps towards. The oddest, which is supposed to be played for laughs, finds them taking turns pretending to be thieves that break into their Japanese hotel so each one can be tied up against her.

Chan is a cop named Muscles. As the film opens, he and his partner try to catch the rogue cop. Not only do they lose him, but the partner gets kidnapped. Chan is not seen for about an hour until the climatic fight scenes, and there is bad blood between Muscles and the Lucky Stars gang. While he doesn’t appear in most of the film, My Lucky Stars is the only film in this collection set in modern times, so it allows Chan to be seen in different settings, like in an amusement park, and to take part in a car chase in contrast to the other films where the fight scenes and locations are slightly repetitive.

According to the liner notes, “digital restorations of Half a Loaf of Kung Fu, Spiritual Kung Fu, The Fearless Hyena, The Fearless Hyena II, The Young Master, and My Lucky Stars were created from the 35 mm original camera negatives with Half a Loaf of Kung Fu mastered in high definition and the other five features mastered in 2K resolution. Scanning for all the films was performed on an ARRISCAN film scanner.”

The films are presented in an aspect ratio of 2.39:1 except Half a Loaf (2.35:1) and My Lucky Stars (1.78:1). They all offer solid colors and inky blacks. Film grain is apparent and the images look clean. Depth and fine texture details are noticeable. Chan experimented with lenses on Fearless Hyena, so a few scenes are intentionally distorted.

As for the audio, they all offer the original mono Cantonese track except Spiritual Kung Fu, which offers the original mono Mandarin track and a mono Cantonese track; a 5.1 Surround track except My Lucky Stars, which offers a 2.0 Cantonese track; and a mono English dub except The Young Master which offers a 5.1 Surround English dub. Fearless Hyena II also offers an alternate mono English dub.

According to the notes, “The original monaural theatrical mixes and original English-dubbed tracks, when available, were provided by collectors dedicated to the proper preservation of Hong Kong cinema, while the 5.1 and 2.0 Cantonese tracks were made from optical soundtracks. The alternate English-dubbed track for Fearless Hyena II was provided by Fortune Star Media.”

The Special Features are:

Disc One

  • The Ultimate Showdown (10 min) – Author Grady Hendrix speaks to what made Chan a superstar
  • Two Half a Loaf trailers
  • Lo Wei and His Action Films (10 min) – film critic/historian Paul Fonoroff discusses Wei work in 2005
  • Fighting Style (4 min) – Chan with Hung and Stanley Tong talk about Chan’s ability to stage action and practice classic kung fu styles
  • Spiritual Kung Fu Trailer

Disc Two

  • Commentary by Hong Kong cinema expert/producer Frank Djeng
  • Two The Fearless Hyena Trailers
  • Fearless Hyena II trailer

Disc Three

  • Commentary by Hong Kong cinema expert/producer Frank Djeng
  • Jackie Chan (8 min) – 2004 interview remembering The Young Master
  • The Master (28 min) – Actor Hwang In-shik discusses his background and playing Master Kim
  • Deleted-Scene Comparison (3 min) – original footage and final scene, forgettable
  • Cannes Promo Reel (14 min) – no audio
  • NG Shots (14 min) – no audio, shots considered “no good”
  • Deleted Scenes (5 min) – an English-dubbed scene not included in final Hong Kong edit
  • The Young Master Trailer

Disc Four

  • Clown Prince (18 min) – Hung talks about action, humor, and the movie
  • Lady Daredevil (21 min) – bodybuilder Michiko Nisiwaki discusses her background and her role in My Lucky Stars
  • NG Shots (22 min) – no audio, shots considered “no good”
  • My Lucky Stars Trailers

Jackie Chan: Emergence of a Superstar presents viewers with a quartet of good films highlighting Chan’s work in front of and behind the camera. My Lucky Stars is enjoyable, but considering Chan’s small role, it would have been nicer to see a movie with a modern setting in which he starred. Fearless Hyena II is a disaster not worthy of a place in the Criterion Collection. The high-definition presentations deliver satisfying video, but the audio is limited by the sources. There are a decent amount of special features but not as thorough as some Criterion releases. Unfortunately, there’s none for Fearless Hyena II, which is the film with the most intriguing backstory.

Gordon S. Miller

Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of this site. "I'm making this up as I go" - Indiana Jones

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