By the end of the 1970s, everything had changed for Jackie Chan. He had cowritten, directed, and starred in The Fearless Hyena, which became the top-grossing Hong Kong film of 1979. His next project, The Young Master, would top that same chart in 1980. He had extricated himself from a restrictive contract with producer Lo Wei and signed a new deal with the booming Hong Kong studio Golden Harvest, forging a relationship that would last two decades. By the end of the eighties, he’d be an international star, with only the English-speaking market left to conquer. But first he had to fight his way through the rockiest chapter of his leading-man career. When you watch the films in this collection—particularly Half a Loaf of Kung Fu, Spiritual Kung Fu, and Fearless Hyena II, all shot in the late seventies and released haphazardly between 1978 and 1983—you’re watching Chan struggling to convince a skeptical industry to let Jackie Chan be Jackie Chan on-screen, back when no one quite knew what that meant, not even Chan himself.
Years later, when Chan’s work became the subject of real critical attention, both he and his admirers would trace the whirlwind wit and the safety-last bravery of his action sequences back to influences like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd, as well as to Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly—movie stars for whom acting and movement were synonymous. But Chan also grew up watching the Road Runner, Batman, and Popeye. And long before he lent his name and likeness to the animated Kids’ WB series Jackie Chan Adventures (ninety-five episodes, with Chan as a two-fisted archaeologist in the Indiana Jones tradition); before the first Kung Fu Panda paid homage to the chopstick-fight sequence from The Fearless Hyena; before Chan’s own voice-acting turns in the Kung Fu Panda films, The Lego Ninjago Movie, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem; before the idea that every animated feature needed a clay-footed CGI/live-action remake took hold of Hollywood, Chan turned himself into a real-life cartoon character in order to define himself as a star.
Watch Half a Loaf of Kung Fu, and chances are you’ll think of Popeye, even before a nearly beaten Jackie chomps spinach and fights to the finish while the soundtrack blasts the Sailor Man’s theme song. Watch The Fearless Hyena, and you’ll probably think of Bugs Bunny, even before Jackie shows up dressed in drag and smacks a strongman around for getting fresh. You’ll think of Dick Tracy’s villains, of Felix the Cat in Felix the Ghost Breaker, of Chuck Jones and Tex Avery, of the Katzenjammer Kids catching frogs. Over the course of the first five films presented here, Chan figures out how to wriggle free of the constraints placed on him by the kung-fu genre and his own professional circumstances, like Roger Rabbit slipping in and out of Eddie Valiant’s handcuffs.
Mean Streets: Rites of Passage
Martin Scorsese’s breakthrough feature—a rare example of a work of personal cinema with broad popular appeal—delivers all the elements of his future career in one spectacular, bravura throw-down.
Nanny: Troubled Water
With the full force of her imagination, director Nikyatu Jusu examines the complicated nature of Black motherhood, as well as the importance of Black communion as an antidote to racial oppression.
The Others: Something in This House
Influenced by haunted-house classics like The Innocents and Rebecca, this brilliantly restrained ghost story is a dramatization of extreme repression that builds toward an explosive reckoning.
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