Eye For Film >> Movies >> Fearless Hyena (1979) Film Review
Jackie Chan has pretty much created a genre for himself. Frenetic energy, jaw-dropping stunts and mediocre scripts, latterly jointed with some game attempts at the English language – all with generous portions of Chan’s trademark goofing. I’ve never been a complete fan of the constant, overly forced mugging in most of his films, but the staggering Fearless Hyena goes some way to explaining his idiosyncratic style.
The simple story finds Chan’s Shing Lung living with his strict grandfather-cum-martial arts trainer (James Tien), while secretly signing on at a local fighting school to earn some extra wedge. Shing Lung uses his considerable combat skills to ward off rival schools’ champions, all while goofily pretending to be a lowly cleaner or bumbling charwoman. His renown draws in his grandfather’s old nemesis, the brutally talented Yen, who summarily dispatches gramps. A distraught Shing Lung vows revenge, but must first undergo a gruelling training regime if he is ever to defeat the evil, merciless Yen (Sai-kun Yam).
So, a talented martial artist plays the clown, masking his fighting skills from his opponents to finally double-punch them out with shock and awe. Then, when a hero is truly called upon, he rises to the challenge to see truth and justice prevail. It is Chan’s cultivated screen persona to a tee. Using low-level laughs as a vehicle for showcasing some high-level physical mastery is now his stock in trade and something he deliberately used to make himself an individual performer.
Increasingly conscious of industry pressure to become the new Bruce Lee, his 1979 directorial debut is a bold and deliberate step by the burgeoning star to forge a career on his terms. Following his success in Drunken Master Chan delivers a martial arts film of truly dazzling fight sequences that proves his physical and technical prowess, whilst injecting something very un-Lee, something very Chan. The humour.
Fearless Hyena has hefty doses of his now typical slapstick comedy to counterbalance the superbly choreographed scraps he gets into, often incorporated into the same scenes. Watered down in his later films, it’s full on here and if it’s never been to your tastes before, you may find its prominence a little trying after a while. Nevertheless, at the time the combination enabled Chan to prove that he could be every inch the kung fu star (and director) without having to conform to the expectations of another’s style. Indeed, with it he begins to create an exciting comedic sub-genre of his own.
There may not be much else of substance here, but there doesn’t really need to be. Chan achieves what he set out to do and there’s plenty for any discriminating martial arts film fan to indulge in. The lengthy fights have a balletic grace and flow that it is impossible to fault, with one or two sequences that literally make you pause for breath. He doesn’t make ’em like this anymore (as proved by the Hyena’s inevitable sequels).Reviewed on: 19 Apr 2007