Fearless Hyena, The

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 09/29/14 07:03:27

"Early Jackie Chan, which at least shows impressive flashes."
3 stars (Average)

"The Fearless Hyena" is noteworthy in large part because it is Jackie Chan's first credited movie as writer and director as well as star, and given that "screenplay by Jackie Chan" never exactly became something that drew people to movies, it's not surprising that the story is fairly perfunctory. On the other hand, Chan's greatest skill as a director - getting out of the way of his own fight choreography - is visible from the start.

In this one, he plays Shing Lung, a lazy young man who would rather gamble that practice the kung fu of his grandfather Peng-fei (James Tien Jun), especially since said grandfather has said not to use it in public. He doesn't quite think he's doing that by running a scam with Ti Cha (Lee Kwan), head of a bogus kung fu school. Still, it attracts the attention of both Yen Chuen-wong (Yen Shi-kwan), the warlord determined to eradicate all practitioners of this style, and beggar "Unicorn" (Chan Wai-lau), secretly a master himself.

There are a lot of movies with the basic template of The Fearless Hyena - establish the villain, establish the student, make it personal, train under an unyielding master, and then build up a big fight for the finale. A lot of kung fu movies from the 1970s look like this - not studio-bound like Shaw Brothers films, but often taking place in big empty spaces, or likely-reused town sets - and have the same rhythms. Jackie Chan being in charge means that this is done with slapstick bits, even when things take the inevitably more serious turn.

As much as those scenes are pretty clearly padding to get the movie up to ninety minutes, there's no denying that they're enjoyable. The movie gets into a bit of a holdling pattern for a while - there are two or three bits where Shing Lung disguises himself as someone apparently unthreatening (an old man, a washer-woman) who then lays a whoopin' on the head of a rival school, but there's no denying that it is a bunch of fun to watch a young and lean Jackie Chan establish his physical and comedic chops. What's on-screen may be silly or cartoonish, but there's no accusing Chan of mailing it in.

That's especially true in the last act, which starts out as two versus an army but inevitably becomes a one-on-one with Jackie and Yen Shi-kwan. They keep it going for an impressive amount of time, in part because Chan mixes things up with four varieties of "emotional kung fu", but mostly as a showcase of Chan's ridiculous physical gifts. A big chunk of the fight is Jackie/Shing Lung just not being where the other guy's blows are falling, even if he was a second ago and doesn't seem to exerting that much effort to avoid them. It's not necessarily among the top fights of Chan's long career, but it's impressive enough to be a lot of fun to watch.

It would take a bit of time before Jackie Chan would really distinguish himself from the back where martial arts stars are concerned, and this is him at the start of that process. Still, you can't really go wrong watching Chan do his thing, even if he's not quite fully formed yet.

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