The Fearless Hyena (1979)

After becoming a superstar with both Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and Drunken Master in 1978, it was finally time for Jackie Chan to take the reins on this classic kung fu comedy, which marked his directorial debut.

Ah Chan is a young ruffian who had just moved to town with his grandfather Chen Peng-Fei, who has been teaching him kung fu while working a day job hocking lollipops for kids in the street. Chan finds himself in one fight after another and as punishment, undergoes harsh training from his grandfather. One day, Chan finds himself winning a game in gambling and the three proprietors, Big Bear, Stony Egg, and Iron Head, demand the money back. After beating them and another receipt of harsh training, Chan gets an offer from the trio he can’t refuse.

Chan is hired by a so-called martial arts master to fight selected fighters who challenge the school. As Chan easily defeats them and is paid handsomely, his grandfather discovers the ruse and forces Chan to quit for a very good reason. Yen Chuen-Wong is a deadly fighter who is attempting to wipe out the Hsing Yi Clan, in which Chen is only one of two surviving members. When Chan inadvertently leads Yen to Chen, Chen is killed by Yen. Chan soon meets the last surviving member, Unicorn, who had disguised himself as a beggar. Unicorn decides to teach Chan a new form of kung fu developed from emotions. With his newfound skills, Chan is ready to avenge his grandfather and restore the name of the Hsing Yi Clan.

In 1979, after the success of his loan to Seasonal Film Corporation, Jackie Chan returned for his last completed film for Lo Wei. However, while Lo Wei was intent on directing, Chan said he wanted to be the director and despite sheer reluctance, Lo finally relented and let Chan direct this kung fu comedy classic, which would be the film company’s biggest box-office hit after Chan’s other films failed at the box office.

Why did this film work? It’s simple. As Chan said it himself, it was time for a new era in kung fu films. With the Seasonal Films, Chan was able to infuse amazing kung fu with comic antics. When Lo Wei attempted to infuse comic antics with Spiritual Kung Fu, it was deemed that it relied too much on toilet humor. Although the calligraphy scene was quite a hoot. However, Chan, having technically made a funny kung fu comedy in Half a Loaf of Kung Fu, it would be this film that allowed it to be released after Lo shelved it. Compared to the Seasonal Films, what are we treated to this time around?

Well, with Chan taking the helm, he manages to showcase both his skills in kung fu and comedy in a series of harsh training and funny fight scenes. With veteran James Tien as his grandpa, Chan finds himself in a standing handstand, forced to spar with staffs. Even Dean Shek makes a memorable cameo as a funeral director who attempts to give Chan a job and it’s quite funny. However, when it comes to his throwdown with his eventual three allies, it’s hilarious. Especially Cheng Fu-Hung’s Big Bear, who when Chan does judo-like throws, Big Bear’s impact is greatly exaggerated like that of an earthquake. However, that’s nothing compared to the hilarious fight scenes against the school challengers.

For these fights, Chan gets to dress up as both a buffoon and in a memorable scene to take on an overbearing opponent who could be Big Bear’s brother, Chan dresses in drag and manages to fool the challenger. During the first of his buffoonish fights, Shaw Brothers fans will get to see Five Element Ninjas lead Ricky Cheng as a swordsman who attempts to get the best of Chan…and fails. Not only as director, but action choreographer, Chan is impeccable when it comes to the level of skills he does in the film.

As for the villains, they come in the form of big bad Yen Shi-Kwan as the white-haired Yen, who has three henchmen who weird a weapon that looks like part spear-part halberd. The trio are played by Ho Hing-Nam, Wang Chi-Sheng, and one of the original Jackie Chan Stunt Team members, Peng Kang. The other original JC Stunt Team member, Wong Yiu, plays for comic kicks as the character of Stony Egg. Yen engages in a nicely Chan-choreographed fight scene against another legendary villain actor, Eagle Han in the film’s opening. However, it is the finale, in which Chan uses a style he developed just for this film, “emotional kung fu” and this when it comes to his laughing emotion, is given the film’s title, is an amazing finale to show why Chan made the right decision in fusing comedy and kung fu.

The Fearless Hyena is an amazing kung fu classic that shows why Chan is the “clown prince of kung fu”. His “emotional kung fu” is one for the ages and look out for a funny scene that would play as an influence years later in Kung Fu Panda, in which Chan voiced Monkey.

WFG RATING: A

A Lo Wei Motion Pictures Co. Ltd. Production. Director: Jackie Chan. Producer: Hsu Li-Hwa. Writer: Jackie Chan. Cinematography: Chen Jung-Shu. Editing: Vincent Leung.

Cast: Jackie Chan, James Tien, Yen Shi-Kwan, Dean Shek, Chen Hui-Lou, Wong Yiu, Cheng Fu-Hung, Ma Chiang, Lee Quan, Peng Kang, Wang Shi-Cheng, Ho Hing-Nam, Ricky Cheng.

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