Written by Ming Chi Tang and directed by Chi-Hwa Chen (Snake and Crane Arts of Shaolin), Half a Loaf of Kung Fu is a comedic martial arts film from Hong Kong. The Lo Wei Motion Picture Company, particularly Lo Wei himself, was frustrated that their previous attempts to market Jackie Chan as the next Bruce Lee were not proving to be fruitful for the production house.
Lo Wei’s New Fist of Fury (1976), although moderately successful, failed to captivate audiences in the same way that 1972’s Fist of Fury has done previously. As a result Lo Wei gave Jackie Chan (credited as Jacky Chan) a degree of creative control over 1978’s Half a Loaf of Kung Fu; a decision Lo Wei would initially regret.
Jackie Chan stars as a hopeless, lone wanderer in search of an opportunity to develop his (non-existent) martial art skills and become a kung fu master; a goal which appears unattainable. At least until he meets a flatulent begger (Dean Shek) who begins offering him scraps of knowledge; for example the impressive “One Finger Stops Mountain” martial art move! Chan is then later discovered by another begger (Wen Tai Li), a known Kung Fu master, who is impressed by his earnest demeanour and accepts him as his student.
Now more confident (and perhaps slightly more arrogant) knowing that his knowledge of kung fu has reached a competent level, Chan joins a group of bodyguards (along with James Tien and Chung-Erh Lung) entrusted with the task of escorting priceless cargo across China to safekeeping. Let us just hope that Chan’s new-found skills are competent enough for the series of showdowns that are about to take place with the countless bandits who are tracking the cargo; including the infamous ‘Man of a Thousand Faces’ (Kang Chin, credited here as Kong Kam). This is going to be a long and grueling journey…
What is most interesting about Half a Loaf of Kung Fu is the opening sequence that parodies the oversaturated concept of showcasing the starring actors kung-fu abilities. This was common of 1970’s Hong Kong cinema, but here we see Jackie Chan making numerous mistakes to great comedic effect. It’s an inventive sequence that unfortunately highlights just how much of a wasted opportunity Half a Loaf of Kung Fu was. Whilst Chi-Hwa Chen and Jackie Chan skillfully parody many kung fu conventions, including a side-splitting scene where Chan rips off his opponents wig and proceeds to uses it as a nunchaku in the style of Bruce Lee, the balance between action and comedy just doesn’t feel quite right.
Lo Wei himself was unconvinced and shelved the movie until its eventual release two years later; after Jackie Chan met success with the Yuen Woo-ping directed films Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and Drunken Master, both released in 1978. The problem is, if you were to strip Half a Loaf of Kung Fu of its the comedic elements the film would be derivative of Lo Wei’s earlier output; whereby the hero gets him/herself into trouble, practices kung Fu, defeats villain.
Half a Loaf of Kung Fu is however an important film in the history of Hong Kong cinema. It was the first movie to showcase Chan’s signature comedic talent, rather than the stoic, grimaced hero that befell many talented actors and martial artists during the ‘Bruceploitation’ era. For that I applaud Half a Loaf of Kung Fu. Just don’t expect a full loaf of kung fu, ok?
Half a Loaf of Kung Fu is available to buy from Amazon.co.uk; plus if you decide to make a purchase after following the link provided you will have supported Attack From Planet B, so thank you.