AKA Karate Bomber
Starring Jackie Chan, James Tin Jun, Doris Lung Chun-Erh, Kim Jeong-Nan, Kam Kong, Lee Hoi-Lung, Ma Ju-Lung, Miao Tian, Lam Chiu-Hung, Dean Shek Tin, Julie Lee Chi-Lun, Lee Man-Tai
Directed by Chen Chi-Hwa
Expectations: Interested. I remember this one being good.
Originally shot between Snake and Crane Arts of Shaolin and Magnificent Bodyguards, Half a Loaf of Kung Fu was shelved by Lo Wei after screening it and deeming it unfit for public consumption. But a few years later, when Jackie Chan shot to superstardom, Lo Wei didn’t care so much about it not being up to his standards. When it was released, it was a pretty good hit, even outgrossing Jackie Chan’s far superior film from earlier in 1980, The Young Master. But while I can understand the intent of Jackie Chan and Chen Chi-Hwa with the comedy of Half a Loaf of Kung Fu, I’m honestly more on the Lo Wei side than I would’ve thought I’d be prior to re-watching this one for the first time in probably 15 years.
Half a Loaf of Kung Fu is not a traditional kung fu film, it is an active attempt to parody and make light of the stoic seriousness that the genre is generally built upon. It does a fair job of that, but at the same time it’s also fairly subtle in how it does this. The plot points are essentially the same as they are in many other similarly themed films: a highly sought-after treasure (here it’s the Evergreen Jade and the Elixir of Life) is being transported by a security bureau across the country, and every bandit on Hong Kong’s side of the Mississippi is out to claim the treasure for themselves.
What this means is that Half a Loaf of Kung Fu shares more in common with modern Jackie Chan films where he plays a character who doesn’t know how to fight than it does with other films made around this time, especially something like The Young Master. In fact, for the first two-thirds of the film there’s very little in the way of action at all. What’s there is good, but it’s nothing special. When Jackie does find himself in a scrape, it’s interesting to see him choreograph around his character’s inability, weaving some nice laughs into what would just normally be basic, uninteresting fight scenes. But for me, the laughs weren’t big enough to override my feeling of something missing.
It is with this same sentiment that I think Lo Wei was right not to release the film at the time it was shot. The meandering plot feels similar to how later Jackie films such as Drunken Master and The Young Master are structured, and Half a Loaf of Kung Fu skillfully parodies many kung fu conventions. But the balance between comedy and genuine martial skill doesn’t feel quite right. It’s enjoyable, especially for someone like myself that likes these early period Jackie films, but it just doesn’t have the oomph necessary to sell itself as something different. So what am I getting at? It’s not funny enough to satisfy your comedy urges, nor is it impressive enough on a martial arts level, so it ends up just being vaguely disappointing. I question if audiences would’ve responded as well as they eventually did (for reasons unknown to me) if it had come out when initially intended, and that’s why I’m kind of on Lo Wei’s side.
Next up in this chronological journey through the films of Jackie Chan is Jackie’s first attempt to crossover to the US film market, Robert Clouse’s The Big Brawl AKA Battle Creek Brawl! See ya then!