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Fearless Hyena
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"I'm wearing bellbottoms."

Jackie Chan mugs in Fearless Hyena.
Year: 1979
Director: Jackie Chan, Kenneth Tsang Kong (uncredited)
Producer: Hsu Li-Hwa
Writer: Jackie Chan, Lo Wei
Action: Jackie Chan
Cast: Jackie Chan, James Tien Chun, Yen Shi-Kwan (Yang Yee-Kwan), Lee Kwan, Ricky Cheng Tien-Chi (cameo), Dean Shek Tin (cameo)
The Skinny: Story-wise, Fearless Hyena stays with the same generic "I must avenge my master!" shtick we've come to expect from b-grade martial arts movies, but thanks to some expertly choreographed fight sequences and the light, enormously engaging comedic tone, Jackie Chan's directorial debut rates as a definite must-see.
Review by

     As far as plots go, Jackie Chan's Fearless Hyena is nothing special. Here, Chan plays yet another country bumpkin whose venerable master gets killed by a dastardly villain. This, of course, leaves Chan no other option but to train under a new sifu to avenge his teacher's death and vanquish all evildoers by the final reel. Sounds like a real yawner, huh? But surprisingly, the film never fails to entertain. What sets Fearless Hyena apart from the substandard chopsocky fare of its day is the manner in which the film executes its formulaic storyline. From the fine comic performances to the well-timed stunt choreography, Fearless Hyena manages to become a winning example of a tired cliché done well.
     Chan stars as Shing Lung, a cheeky rascal who trains under the expert guidance of his wizened grandfather (James Tien in old age makeup). Though quite good at fighting, Lung is forbidden to use his skills publicly, much to the young man's dismay. Gramps has his reasons for being so strict, but Lung doesn't realize the gravity of the situation and starts brawling to earn some extra cash. What Lung doesn't realize is that ol' Grandpa is actually one of the few remaining practitioners of an ancient martial arts style, and the evil, cape-wearing Yen Chuen-Wong (Yen Shi-Kwan of Once Upon a Time in China fame) wishes to obliterate all the survivors of this nearly extinct clan. Sadly, Lung's disobedience of his grandfather's "no fighting" rule results in his master's identity being revealed to the enemy, and subsequently, his untimely death as well.
     Though craving revenge, Lung eventually realizes that he is unable to defeat Yen with his comparatively feeble skills, so he trains under his gimpy, cane-wielding uncle. In a series of textbook Jackie Chan exercises (see Drunken Master and Snake in the Eagle's Shadow for similar grueling sessions), Shing Lung tries to harness the power of "emotional kung fu." Masters of this elusive style will find added strength and endurance while seemingly falling apart at the seams. That is, they end up either crying profusely or laughing uncontrollably (hence the film's "fearless hyena" moniker). With his new fighting style downloaded the old-fashioned way, Shing Lung seems ready for the final showdown. You don't have to be a Hong Kong film aficionado to guess what happens next.
     To tell the truth, I had my doubts when watching Fearless Hyena for the first time. Would this be yet another uninspired flick reminiscent of some of Chan's Lo Wei films? Or would it be something more? I'm glad to report that it was most definitely the latter. Fearless Hyena has so many memorable moments and performances that it's tough to figure out which ones to single out for praise. Fight-wise, the choreography is intricate, boasting an inventive chopstick foodfight that puts the fly-catching shenanigans of Mr. Miyagi to shame. The cast is populated with a variety of interesting characters, led by James Tien's great turn as Chan's elderly master. But of course, the real star of the show is Chan himself, who finds numerous ways to keep the audience entertained. For example, while trying to hide his new job from his disapproving grandfather, Jackie dons quite a few disguises, including a delightfully amusing, but admittedly disturbing, escapade in drag.
     Despite my high praise, I in no way mean to suggest that Fearless Hyena is on par with a film like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (drag queen is more like it!), but it's certainly worth a look for any HK movie fan. Here, we get an early glimpse of Jackie Chan just as he began his evolution as a physical comedian. With its old school charm, winning performances, and complete lack of a hip-hop soundtrack, Fearless Hyena is most definitely a crucial episode in the Jackie Chan canon. (Calvin McMillin 2003)

Notes: • The soundtrack borrows cues from both the Pink Panther and Superman: The Movie.
• The counterfeit sifu played by Lee Kwan is actually named "Si Fu." To translate this pun into English, the subtitles make the phony master's name "Tee Cha."
• Dean Shek has a great, but fleeting cameo as an undertaker that Jackie tries to apprentice under early in the film.
• "Shing Lung" is a slight variation on Chan's own nickname - Sing Lung. It means, depending on the translation, "Already a Dragon" or "Become the Dragon."

Region 1 NTSC
Columbia/Tri-Star Home Video
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and English Language Tracks
Removable English and Spanish Subtitles

image courtesy of Columbia/Tri-Star Home Video Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen