[box cover]

Half a Loaf of Kung Fu

The opening credit sequence — featuring Jackie Chan parodying an array of chop-socky movie icons from Toshiro Mifune to the Shaolin monks — clues the viewer in that the rest of 1978's Half a Loaf of Kung Fu will be played strictly for laughs. Not that the laughs are especially sophisticated, mind you; the over-the-top mugging and childish humor in this movie is endearing, but hardly cerebral. The plot is classic Chan — he plays Jiang, a useless layabout who wants to find a job as a guard but doesn't know a lick of kung fu. He literally dreams of being a kick-ass martial arts master in both the opening skits and in a later sequence, when his nocturnal fantasies have him beating up some bullies after eating a handful of spinach to the theme music from "Popeye the Sailor Man." After getting into trouble by impersonating the renowned "Man with the Whip," a kindly beggar and a cranky old master lead Jiang into employment with the Sern Chuan Bodyguards, who are protecting a pair of priceless treasures. Naturally, Jiang gets lessons in kung fu, learning moves like "The Finger That Moves Mountains" (guess which finger it is) and redeems himself by spending the last half-hour of the film fighting a dozen different villains in his trademark comic style. Chan, who was hoping to break out of the repetitive, costume-heavy action films he was making in his early 20s, convinced producer Lo Wei to allow him to make a comedy as an experiment. But Lo Wei hated it and refused to release it — until Jackie's huge successes with Drunken Master and Snake in Eagle's Shadow made him a box office phenomenon. Half a Loaf of Kung Fu is hardly one of the better Chan films, but it offers solid laughs and some fine '70s-style kung fu — especially by the three primary women in the film, who more than hold their own with their male counterparts. If nothing else, it's another chance to see the amazing Jackie Chan, in peak physical condition, do his always entertaining stuff. Columbia TriStar's DVD is an unexceptional transfer of an unexceptional print. It's bright enough, and not too dirty, but far from pristine. It's also not letterboxed, presented full-screen only. The "digitally mastered" (according to the box) monaural audio is muddy and uneven, with very loud Foley effects layered over murky vocals and a shrill soundtrack of blatantly stolen music that includes everything from a Theremin to themes from spaghetti westerns. Audio is in either Cantonese or dubbed English, with subtitles in English, Spanish or Portuguese. Also on board are trailers for The One and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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