The Jackie Chan Collection Vol. 1 gathers a unique mix of the actor’s early films showcasing his sense of humor and jaw-dropping martial arts abilities. Highlights of the set include Snake & Crane Arts of Shaolin, Shaolin Wooden Men, and multiple cuts of Jackie’s celebrated directorial effort Dragon Lord. Shout! Select loads each disc with multiple language dubs, commentary tracks, interviews, and more. For martial arts fans this set comes Highly Recommended.
In Kung Fu movies the cliched sentiment “knowledge is power” meant villains and masters must be older and therefore wiser than their younger counterparts. Films would often use gray wigs on actors in their 30s to portray these aged characters. When Jackie Chan started appearing prominently in feature films his appearance began to reflect modern standards rather than period aesthetics. His long 1970s hairstyle was a subtle gesture that he was slowly upending the staunch values of Martial Arts cinema. In Jackie’s early filmography youthful spirits are casually dismantling old traditions and even the clumsiest student could achieve greatness. Antiquated ways began to lose their allure to modern audiences allowing Jackie to spread a modern Hong Kong identity. In the following collection of films Jackie is navigating cultural and production limitations in order to grow his on-screen persona and deliver an evolving martial arts style for audiences hungry for something new and exciting.
The collection from Shout! begins gently with 1976’s The Killer Meteors. A confusing tale of double crosses, honor, and greed, the feature is filled with Wuxia-inspired fight scenes. The flick relies on supernatural powers of our heroes and fighters to keep our attention. Duty and honor are important elements but so are intrigue and the constant double-crossing. Jackie’s character is a storied fighter Immortal Meteor who is barely featured here but his two fight scenes are prominent within the film. It’s not the most entertaining effort but seeing the title character Killer Meteo (Jimmy Wang Yu, One-armed Boxer vs. the Flying Guillotine) battle it out with the baddies and handle the plot twists is entertaining enough.
The next two features Shaolin Wooden Men (1976) and To Kill with Intrigue (1977) allowed Jackie to demonstrate his skills within productions that were plagued with artistic blowback from director Lo Wei. Wooden Men follows the story of a struggling Shaolin apprentice out to avenge his father’s death. It’s filled with insane montages, drunken monks, and sustained action choreography. Intrigue sees Chan stuck in a bland character caught in an unlikely love affair. Surrounded by psychedelic witchcraft the film features bizarre imagery and acrobatic fight scenes worth rewinding.
Now we get into the real meat-and-potatoes of this collection with 1978’s Snake & Crane Arts of Shaolin. A young Shaolin student in possession of a sacred book must fight off clans hoping to use it for nefarious reasons. StarringTang Pin-Er (Nora Miao, The Big Boss) the film axes convoluted storylines and bloated dialogue exchanges offering minimal intrusion into the acrobatic fight scenes. Here Jackie is able to go full tilt “Buster Keaton” with his style giving audiences a feast for the eyes as he bounces around battling the villains.
Next up is 1979’s Dragon Fist which was shot before Jackie was loaned out to the studio Seasonal Film to make the now iconic films Drunken Master and Snake in the Eagle's Shadow which solidified Jackie in his kung fu comedy career. With Dragon Fist released afterward this dramatic and confining effort faded against the character-defining films released beforehand. In Dragon Jackie is a student named Huo who is out to avenge his master’s death at the hands Master Chung Gim-gwan (Yen Si-Kuan, The 36 Crazy Fists). Fight scenes here are excellent with Jackie working more deliberate techniques rather than his own signature drunken style. No hijinks here as the dramatic levels reach as high as the intensity of the fight choreography. MVP goes to Pearl Lin as Zhong Qiu Ping for her breakout fighting style.
Jackie’s Hollywood debut was 1980’s Battle Creek Brawl in which our star must fight in a street tournament to win back his brother’s kidnapped fiance. Set in 1930’s Chicago, this slapstick period comedy was billed to reignite the kung fu film genre in America by pairing rising star Jackie Chan and director Robert Clouse. Jackie is trying desperately in every scene to elevate the fight choreography and comedy but the film never rises to either occasion. I can see why audiences didn’t flock to this one like Clouse’s better-known effort, Enter the Dragon.
The last feature in the set is 1982’s Dragon Lord which sees two troublemakers accidentally finding themselves fighting smugglers and defending their village and country. Jackie’s directorial effort is equal parts kung fu comedy and stunt spectacular. Here we see the actor’s genius at play, free from production constraints. The feature is full of great moments giving us the first real look at the Jackie Chan who will dominate martial arts cinema in the next decade.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
The Jackie Chan Collection Vol. 1 is brought to Blu-ray thanks to Shout! Factory’s Shout Select line. Housed in a wide keepcase with two-sided artwork the 7 discs are individually housed in separate trays. Loading each disc presents the Shout! Factory logo before landing on the static Main Menu screen with scoring elements announcing your arrival. Typical navigation options are presented clearly. A slipcover is available for this release but could be limited after the initial release window.
Each film in The Jackie Chan Collection Vol. 1 is shown in their original widescreen format in an AVC encoded 1080p presentation. Dragon Lord and Battle Creek Brawl are in 2.39:1 while the remaining features are in 2.35:1. Each feature is remastered in 2K from original film elements providing an image quality without dirt or specks clearly evident. Overall each transfer offers inky black levels, solid grain fields, and lifelike colors and skin tones. For those with the 88 Films Blu-ray releases of these titles you’ll find the technical aspects are identical. Check out my notes on each feature below to get a sense of what each one brings to the table.
The Killer Meteors is presented with high contrast levels and strong use of DNR. Colors are distinct, offering vibrant reds, blues, and sharp yellows. Greens suffer a bit in forest landscapes. Fine detail is minimal though costuming textures and facial features are apparent on closeups. Occasional inserts show a drop in quality revealing softness and a distinct lack of detail.
Shaolin Wooden Men is presented with bold primaries offering vibrant reds and yellows in costuming and set decorations. Earth tones are prevalent offering lush greens. Skin tones are even with fine detail present in facial textures and costuming. Some flickering evident but doesn’t detract from the presentation. A pleasing presentation with good depth and color saturation. Unfortunately darkened interiors like the waterfall cave setting lose their luster. Exterior fight scenes are full of life with pleasing detail levels.
To Kill With Intrigue is presented with a darkened color palette. The HD transfer here maintains inky black levels but color saturation is dismal until we get into forest settings where colors are brighter with lush greens and vibrant reds. An uptick in fine detail appears once we enter the forest as well offering a look at facial features, set dressings, and costuming textures. Minimal detail is present with focus issues quite evident. Fine film grain is present though it becomes quite chunky during the final battle sequence.
Snake & Crane Arts of Shaolin is presented with a striking array of subdued reds and oranges during a weapons demonstration. Excellent depth and moderate fine detail here give us a pleasing presentation. Color saturation breathes life into blues within costuming and earth tones in villages and exterior settings. Focus issues are constantly apparent. Black levels are deep and inky with some details lost in shadow. Overall the best transfer so far in the collection.
Dragon Fist is presented with bright primaries, strong depth, and exciting color saturation. Fine film grain evident with inky black levels. Costuming textures and facial features carry moderate detail levels. Some smoothness to the image with occasional waxy complexions to the fighters. Focus issues are apparent often. Image warping is evident throughout the feature presented commonly as a “fish-eye” effect. This warping can be a bit distracting but never appears as source damage.
Battle Creek Brawl showcases an organic grain field coupled with a drab period-sensitive color palette. Primaries are strong with blues and reds dominant throughout. Closeups reveal fine detail in clothing and facial features. Soft lensing gives the film a romantic wash of 30’s American nostalgia. Inky black levels though details are lost in darkened interiors and shadows. A solid image overall.
Dragon Lord features strong primaries across the board with vivid reds and greens striking against the earthen playing fields. Color saturation is pleasing. Black levels are solid with some detail in shadow. Fine detail evident in costuming fibers and facial features. Even skin tones throughout. Sweat beads are visible during fight scenes as well as makeup effects. Depth and contrast make this one of the finest HD images in the set. The alternate cuts of the film presented in this set will offer similar details though insert shots may show a dip in quality.
The Jackie Chan Collection Vol. 1 features an utter ambush of audio options in multiple languages and dubs both new and archival. Overall the DTS-HD MA Mono and Stereo audio options presented are clear and clean with minimal to moderate hiss and pop evident even in archival audio tracks. Newer dub tracks while pleasing with crystal clear dialogue seem to be in conflict with effects and music textures within the various mixes. The 5.1 Surround mixes in Dolby Digital are an excellent addition though none impressed me enough to merit watching a full feature with them selected. English subtitles are available across the board with occasional discrepancies apparent. Check out my notes on each feature to get a sense of the audio tracks on each disc.
The Killer Meteors and Shaolin Wooden Men - Slight hiss and pop evident behind dialogue exchanges in the DTS-HD MA Mandarin audio track. The Cantonese Mono DTS track loses the hiss/pop but exchanges are muffled slightly with levels peaking occasionally. The alternate Cantonese audio track is very sharp and loud, reaching distortion frequently. Finally the English track which is brash and raw but offers the same fidelity as the Cantonese track though recorded at a lower volume keeping distortion minimal.
To Kill With Intrigue - Mandarin DTS Mono is pleasing with dialogue exchanges clear without hiss or pop detected though the English Mono track is sharper with pronounced hiss and pop throughout. The 2.0 Stereo Cantonese audio track sounds freshly recorded making it stand out like a sore thumb against the original music and effects tracks. The Mono Japanese Theatrical Mandarin audio track supplies a dialogue mix with frequent use of modern Japanese pop music within the feature. The 5.1 Surround DD Mandarin and English maintains the clear fidelity of the Mono Mandarin track.
Snake & Crane Arts of Shaolin - Mono DTS Mandarin offers clear dialogue exchanges with minimal hiss and pop apparent. 2.0 DTS HD MA Cantonese utilizes newly recorded dialogue and effects resulting in a sanitized yet sharply distinct audio mix. 2.0 Mono DTS Japanese Theatrical Mandarin has an authentic reverb to dialogue and music. Finally the Mono English dub track retains an aged dialogue track though still sharp. Hiss and pop are minimal though fight effects track gets garbled occasionally.
Dragon Fist - DTS Mono Cantonese offers clear dialogue exchanges without hiss or pop evident. Mono Mandarin is louder and brash with peaking dialogue levels. Mono English is recorded at a lower volume with muddy dub voices difficult to understand under the rising tide of effects and music tracks. Mono Theatrical Japanese track offers a clear dialogue recording and a pronounced presence of music and effects. 5.1 Cantonese offers the same clear dialogue track with minimal use of the surround channels though LFE kicks in (no pun intended) with a punchy resolve. 5.1 Mandarin offers a pleasing dialogue track with minimal hiss and pop with a similar use of surround/LFE channels. 5.1 English carries the same dialogue track as the English Mono with moderate hiss/pop.
Battle Creek Brawl - 2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA English track provides clear dialogue exchanges with minimal hiss/pop detected. Atmospherics and effects are placed within the texture with pleasing results. 2.0 DTS-HD MA Stereo Cantonese is raw though dialogue is clear with dub voices recorded cleanly. 2.0 Stereo DTS-HD MA Mandarin offers the same fidelity as the English track with dubbed voices sharper and clearer than the English or Mandarin voices. Finally the 5.1 Surround DD English track lacks the punch of the other audio tracks but still retains solid clarity. Limited surround elements kick in about 20 minutes during the rollerskate scenes.
Dragon Lord - DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono Cantonese is bold with clear dialogue exchanges and bright scoring elements. DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono Alternate Cantonese is clean but lacks some depth in vocal recordings. Music and effects are clearer than the original Cantonese track. DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono English maintains clear dialogue exchanges with effects and scoring presenting a great audio mix. Often referred to as the 1982 English Export Dub, this track has two small sections in English-subtitled Cantonese. This is not an error in the disc authoring. The 2003 English DD 5.1 surround mix is a bit of a mess though the new dialogue recordings are clear. American voices are used whereas the Mono English supplied British voice actors.
Shout! Factory loads this Shout Select entry with special features giving each title in the set plenty for fans to experience. This is why you’re here, right? I recommend starting with the interviews and archival trailers before revisiting each film with their individual commentary tracks.
The Killer Meteors
Shaolin Wooden Men
To Kill With Intrigue
Snake & Crane Arts of Shaolin
Battle Creek Brawl aka: The Big Brawl
Dragon Lord- Hong Kong Theatrical Cut
The Jackie Chan Collection Vol. 1 provides fans of the iconic actor a deep dive into his early years showing the struggles of a martial artist developing an on-screen persona and style. European labels have long embraced releasing Jackie’s work but here Shout! Factory has caught up bringing together these sought after titles. Casual fans will steer towards known titles like Dragon Lord and Snake & Crane Arts of Shaolin but I encourage anyone interested in Jackie Chan to explore every film to fully experience the growth of his career and his cultural impact on the genre.
The A/V package for each title includes a new 2K restoration of the film coupled with new and archival audio tracks in multiple languages and formats. Purists will desire better image quality and cleaner audio, but considering the source elements these films look and sound great. Highly Recommended.