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Blu-Ray : Recommended
Ranking:
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Release Date: November 7th, 2023 Movie Release Year: 1978

Jackie Chan: Emergence of a Superstar - The Criterion Collection

Overview -

Blu-ray Review By: Bruce Douglas

Jackie Chan: Emergence of a Superstar sees the martial arts icon transition from humorous gymnastic oddity to a writer/director who would redefine the genre with his unique brand of unstoppable hijinks. This collection uses six films to trace his journey, including Half a Loaf of Kung Fu, Spiritual Kung Fu, Fearless Hyena, Fearless Hyena II, The Young Master, and My Lucky Stars. The Blu-rays from The Criterion Collection provide solid A/V presentations for the films, improving upon previous home video releases. Each disc has features ported over from older DVDs with new commentary tracks. For Jackie Chan collectors, this box set is Recommended

OVERALL:
Recommended
Rating Breakdown
STORY
VIDEO
AUDIO
SPECIAL FEATURES
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
4 Blu-ray Set
Video Resolution/Codec:
1080p/AVC MPEG-4
Aspect Ratio(s):
2.35:1, 2.39:1, 1.78:1
Audio Formats:
Lossless PCM, DD 5.1, 2.0 PCM Stereo
Subtitles/Captions:
English
Special Features:
Ultimate Showdown Featurette (10mins), Lo Wei Featurette (9:49), Fighting Style Featurette (4mins), Fearless Hyena Commentary Track from Frank Djeng, The Young Master Commentary Track from Frank Djeng, Jackie Chan Featurette (7mins), The Master Featurette (28mins), Deleted Scene Comparisons on The Young Master (3mins), Cannes Promo Reel (14mins), NG Shots (10mins), Deleted Scenes from The Young Master (5mins), Clown Prince Featurette (18mins), Lady Daredevil Featurette (20mins), NG Shots from My Lucky Stars (22mins), Multiple Trailers per Feature provided
Release Date:
November 7th, 2023

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take

Ranking:

Considering it briefly, Jackie Chan became a genre unto himself outside of the typical martial arts genre flicks. His movies are not necessarily complete stories but a framework for him to hang a series of dangerous set pieces. This scaffolding is simple and clean when Jackie is in control, allowing his performance (and choreography) to shine. Why get wrapped up in subplots when all Jackie wants you to do is marvel at his skills? Famously groomed to be the next Bruce Lee, Jackie charted his own course and defied directors, studios, and critics to become a legend all his own. The key difference between the two? Jackie runs away. A lot. Bruce Lee doesn’t run away. As we’ll see in the films in this set, Jackie’s characters maintain a tenacious resolve no matter how devastating the defeat. Bruce Lee would never suffer such an end, but that’s where Jackie would win over audiences with his humanity and vulnerability. 

The collection begins with the messy but hilarious Half a Loaf of Kung Fu, which sees Jackie Chan utilizing his comedic chops in director Lo Wei's kung fu parody. Various groups converge on a treasure while Jackie’s slacker character Jiang transforms from an untalented con man to defeating groups of gangsters. Fight scenes are choreographed stunningly, with Jackie showcasing his gymnastic techniques to a point. It's all good fun, but the story can become muddied with twists and double-crosses revealed. The third act sees the most fighting, but these sustained sequences can be somewhat tiresome after a while. 

Next is the equally messy Spiritual Kung Fu from Lo Wei, who melds together an unusual collection of ideas that never really pays off. Jackie is yet again a struggling student who must rise above his station in life. Starting as a weird slapstick entry for Chan, the film adds ghosts, which ups the humor quotient before ending up with a strange urination scene. Gears change once dead bodies pile up, forcing Chan’s boyish Yi-Lang to avenge their deaths and bring a coveted fighting manual home to his temple. The film turns around when flight scenes dominate the runtime. Impressive choreography all around, including Chan against 18 men with bo staffs. An unusual entry for sure, but thankfully, the fights are worth the price of admission. 

Now into the real meat of the box set with 1979’s Fearless Hyena which would be Jackie’s debut as writer/director. The film begins with typical Jackie goofiness, keeping the comedy flowing as another man-child goes out to show off his skills, only to fall into a plot involving gangsters and evil lords. Jackie puts everything on screen, showcasing his innate ability to offer an entertaining fight scene while displaying his keen sense of timing and physical prowess. The film shifts gears once an elder is revealed to be a powerful force unknown to the man-child. With The Fearless Hyena, Jackie proclaimed he wasn’t the next Bruce Lee but a force for Hong Kong action cinema in another entertaining direction. 

Now on to Fearless Hyena II, whose reputation precedes itself. Jackie’s sudden departure from the production forced Lo Wei to finish the film without his star. Here, a seemingly simple plot becomes convoluted once Jackie disappears to make films for mega studio Golden Harvest. Fight scenes are memorable, with the duo of Heaven and Earth (Yen Shi-Kwan and Kwon Yeong-Moon) kicking ass and lighting fires. Jackie’s restaurant fight scene is key as it sets up the closing confrontation. Too much filler and a noticeable coverup routine from Lo Wei make this more of an oddity to appreciate rather than a solid entry for Jackie.  

The Young Master, Jackie’s 2nd directorial effort, would cement his blueprint for producing action films. Gone is the schlocky toilet humor and buffoonery associated with his earlier Lo Wei films, which lacked context to the comedy. Channeling Buster Keaton and Chaplin, he frames entire fight sequences around simple setups, allowing his physical prowess to shine. Not to mention the ability to use anything in his grasp, from a wooden bench to even a piece of fabric as a weapon. Young Master is Jackie full tilt. He would top the Hong King box office in 1980, a feat he wouldn’t repeat until his excellent 1987 actioner Armour of God. The Young Master would start a tradition of his films being released during Lunar New Year celebrations when families would go to the cinema together. 

Finally, we finish with My Lucky Stars, which seems to be the outlier in this set, given that it’s a Sammo Hung action comedy. Jackie pops in for some incredibly dangerous stunt sequences, including the opening scene with a car chase ending in Jackie scaling a Ferris wheel. Featuring the Lucky Stars crew is enough to garner laughs as Sammo and his gang of goofy friends inject humor into every second of this flick. The film is the last disc in the box set for good reason. Jackie’s career would launch into orbit thanks to his impressive stunt work through Sammo, giving him these opportunities in his comedies. Jackie’s legacy would be cemented in these sustained cameos. Finally, My Lucky Stars closes with the song lyric, “The lucky stars can change your fate..” These words convey more than empty connections to the title but to Jackie Chan’s career trajectory. 

Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Jackie Chan: Emergence of a Superstar arrives on Blu-ray thanks to The Criterion Collection. Four BD-50 Region A discs are housed in a digipak case with an insert booklet. Loading the discs you’re presented with Criterion’s refreshingly minimalist menu select screens.  

Video Review

Ranking:

The Criterion Collection provides the six films in Jackie Chan: Emergence of a Superstar with solid HD presentations that improve upon previous home video versions. Half a Loaf of Kung Fu is remastered in Standard HD, while all other films are presented in a new 2k digital restoration thanks to Fortune Star. The remaining five films slightly apply DNR without venturing into a waxy appearance. Overall, detail and color are surprisingly good, with warm colors and inky black levels. Presentations are respectable, with Half a Loaf being the outlier. See my notes below for more detailed information.  

Half a Loaf of Kung Fu kicks off the set with a rough-looking HD image in the film’s original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The old DVD master used for this transfer appears dated, showing weak detail levels and coarse grain structure. Colors are solid, though blacks suffer from crush, especially in shadow. 

Spiritual Kung Fu appears sharper than previous releases in the original 2.39:1. The presentation is quite good, with even skin tones, fine grain levels, and intense black levels. Primaries are vibrant, from the robust reds of the ornate temple decorations to the lush landscape greens. Fine detail is evident in close-ups, with clear makeup lines on the pale ghosts. Textures on costuming and set appointments are visible as well. 

The Fearless Hyena and Fearless Hyena II strike back with fantastic HD presentations in the original 2.39:1 ratios. Fine detail appears in medium shots, including the striking muscle definition of Jackie as he trains with Unicorn. Contrast and depth are excellent here, especially in training sequences. Fearless Hyena II pops with fantastic colors and depth. Black levels are supported with detail in shadow. While the production may have been a troubled mess, the HD image is spot-on for fans of this flick.  

The Young Master leaps into action with a solid presentation in the film’s original 2.35:1. The Fortune Star scan offers a bright presentation with prominent reds and yellows during the lion dance sequences. Even skin tones are apparent, with fine detail revealing itself in closeups. Solid black levels throughout the feature. Detail within shadow present. 

My Lucky Stars offers a fantastic presentation in the original 1.78:1. Fans of this goofy film notice the bright primaries, excellent depth, and stable contrast levels. Close-ups and medium shots show fine detail within costuming and facial features. The haunted house sequence provides the best examples of color saturation, black-level stability, and a dynamic color palette. 

Audio Review

Ranking:

As expected, The Criterion Collection has provided various options for each of the six films in the box set. No track is pristine, but most have been cleaned up to varying degrees. All films receive a lossless PCM track in the Original Cantonese and an English Mono dub track. Besides My Lucky Stars, all films also receive a surprisingly solid 5.1 Cantonese surround mix. These audio tracks offer a front-heavy mix, but the rear channels receive a modest workload throughout the features. They’re not my go-to audio choice, but their respectable fidelity and range make them worthwhile options. Check out my notes below to see the breakdown for each film.  

Half a Loaf of Kung Fu offers Original Mono Cantonese, 5.1 Cantonese, and English Dub Mono. Excellent audio presentation from each track, even if the HD image can’t say the same. 

Spiritual Kung Fu offers Original Mono Mandarin, Mono Cantonese, 5.1 Cantonese, and English Mono. English mono lacks the defined clarity of the other audio tracks, but it is still serviceable. This disc is the only one to have a Mandarin track available. 

The Fearless Hyena is presented with Original Mono Cantonese, 5.1 Cantonese, and English Dubbed Mono tracks. Fidelity is solid, with excellent range throughout each track. 

Fearless Hyena II offers Original Cantonese Mono, 5.1 Cantonese, Original English Dub, and an Alternate English Dub. Hiss is apparent on the 5.1 Cantonese track, but other tracks seem very confident with minimal distortion. 

The Young Master receives the Original Mono Cantonese, DD 5.1 Cantonese, and an English Dub DD 5.1 track. The 5.1 Cantonese provides a boost in rear speaker support when compared to the other 5.1 Cantonese tracks. Avoid the English 5.1 Dub track if possible, as it's an echo chamber of voices scattered throughout the scenes. 

My Lucky Stars entertains in Original Cantonese Mono, 2.0 PCM Stereo Cantonese, and an English Dubbed Mono track. A voice-over narration is present in the English dub track that doesn’t appear in the other audio options. 

Special Features

Ranking:

The Criterion Collection has loaded this release with archival features ported over from previous home video iterations of the films. While fans may be disappointed at this box set's lack of new material, Frank Djeng’s informative commentary tracks will undoubtedly offset any hesitation to pick through the menus. The breadth of his knowledge extends into every facet of the film, making these tracks worth the price of admission. Start with the various featurettes and trailers before soaking in the commentary tracks.  

Half a Loaf of Kung Fu:

  • The Ultimate Showman (HD 10:03) A 2020 interview with author Grady Hendrix on Jackie’s unique performance skill set. Clips from Jackie’s films are intercut with Hendrix speaking in detail about the actor’s rise to stardom. 
  • Trailer 1 (HD 3:49)
  • Trailer 2 (HD 2:01)  

Spiritual Kung Fu:

  • Lo Wei and His Action Films (HD 9:49) A 2005 interview with film critic and historian Paul Fonoroff in which he discusses Lo Wei's work and legacy. In Cantonese with English Subtitles.  
  • Fighting Style (HD 4:25) A short featurette highlighting Jackie’s action choreography. Interviews with Jackie, Sammo Hung, and Stanley Tong are intercut with various fight clips. This program initially appeared on the Dragon Dynasty DVD of the film.   
  • Trailer (HD 4:15) 

The Fearless Hyena: 

  • Audio Commentary Hong Kong Cinema expert Frank Djeng recorded for The Criterion Collection in 2023. Frank is a fountain of knowledge, dispensing it at a breakneck pace throughout the feature. You may have to listen twice to catch everything he says! 
  • Theatrical Trailer (HD 4:44)
  • Home-Video Trailer (HD 2:05) 

Fearless Hyena II:

  • Trailer (HD 3:50)

The Young Master:

  • Audio Commentary Hong Kong cinema expert Frank Djeng recorded for The Criterion Collection in 2023. Yet again, Frank wastes no time and launches into his commentary with information, anecdotes, and fascinating stories about the film. 
  • Jackie Chan (HD 7:43) A 2004 interview with Jackie in which he talks about directing the film and the challenges of realizing his vision. Ported over from the Dragon Dynasty DVDs.  
  • The Master (HD 28:04) An archival interview with Master Hwang In-shik, who plays Master Kim. Clips from his martial arts school accompany the interview as he reflects on his career and philosophies on martial arts. 
  • Deleted Scene Comparisons (HD 2:55) This featurette compares deleted scenes with their corresponding scenes as they appeared in the final edit.  
  • Cannes Promo Reel (HD 13:50) Golden Harvest produced this silent promo reel for the 1980 Cannes Film Festival. 
  • NG Shots (HD 9:25) This is a silent reel of raw footage deemed unsuitable or “NG” for the final edit. These sequences offer an exciting perspective into the effort needed to achieve Jackie’s vision. 
  • Deleted Scenes (HD 5:29) These cut English-dubbed scenes aren’t included in the Hong Kong edit of the film.  
  • Trailer (HD 4:01)

My Lucky Stars:

  • Clown Prince (HD 18:01) An archival interview with Sammo Hung in which the director discusses his filmography, the impact of My Lucky Stars, and bringing humor to action cinema. 
  • Lady Daredevil (HD 20:46) An archival interview with bodybuilder Michiko Nishiwaki in which she discusses her role as the climatic fighter in the film. She reflects on her career as a bodybuilder and shares anecdotes about My Lucky Stars. Fight training footage and clips from the film complement the talking head portion of the interview. 
  • NG Shots (HD 22:07) This is a silent reel of raw footage deemed no good or “NG” for the final feature edit. There is much here to appreciate, with fight sequences, car stunts, and on-set interactions offering a fascinating look into the production. 
  • Cantonese Trailer (HD 4:54) 
  • English Dubbed Trailer (HD2:36)

Insert Booklet featuring an essay by critic Alex Pappademas

Final Thoughts

On the surface, Jackie Chan: Emergence of a Superstar seems like a curious mix of films that may have benefitted from individual releases. Avid collectors may balk at the set, citing its lack of new bonus material. I can relate to both fronts once I started working those these exciting Jacke Chan films. In an age of rights issues, it can be challenging to please everyone. The Criterion Collection focuses on Jackie’s early career as the star struggled to find his footing. For every Half a Loaf of Kung Fu, there is a The Young Master, which offers a sense of balance. Seeing the action star navigate success and failure helps us better understand his journey to redefining action cinema. 

The Criterion Collection brings the six films from Jackie Chan: Emergence of a Superstar to Blu-ray in a handsome digipak case with striking artwork. A/V presentations are degrees above previous home video releases, which will please collectors and new fans of Jackie Chan. Special features are ported over from older DVDs, save for the new and excellent commentary tracks. This Jackie Chan box set is Recommended.  

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