“Fearless Hyena” is yet another attempt to cash in on the success of “Drunken Master” and, while it’s not a bad film, it doesn’t have enough unique qualities to allow it to stand on its own. Jackie plays another disobedient boy (named Shing Lung) more adept at mischief than the Kung Fu he should be learning. In “Fearless Hyena” Shing Lung’s grandfather (in some reviews I have heard him referred to as his father; this may be the case in a subtitled version) forbids him to use their family’s Kung Fu in front of anyone, afraid that they may learn it. Shing Lung gets other ideas though; when a local man reopens a gym and asks Shing Lung to be the Master (paying him well, of course), he eagerly accepts and begins showing off his family’s secret moves.
The setup occurs rather early and for the next thirty to forty minutes the fighting never lets up, although the word “fighting” is a bit of a misnomer. In his previous film, “Drunken Master”, Jackie had already established the idea of mixing martial arts with Buster Keaton-styled humor, and audiences showed their approval by setting attendance records. In “Fearless Hyena”, Shing Lung is afraid of being recognized so he must fight in disguise. While this is funny the first time (and it is definitely played for laughs), it is not as funny the third. There is some interesting choreography in these sequences, but not enough to carry them through.
Later on in the film, something significant happens that forces Shing Lung to become a serious fighter, and the film changes tone a bit for the better. The training sequences here are almost as good as those in “Drunken Master”: Jackie does alternating push ups and sit ups against a wooden plank – while hanging upside down from a tree. Jackie pulls a load big enough for a horse – with his Master on top no less, and every muscle chords outward with strain; I don’t think I’ve seen him look as good onscreen before or since.
It’s hard not to compare “Fearless Hyena” to “Drunken Master” with this being such an obvious carbon copy. Unfortunately, the film never seems to achieve the same level of humor or intensity that its predecessor did. It’s certainly not his worst work – that distinction belongs to “Killer Meteors” or “In Eagle Shadow Fist” – but if you’ve already seen “Drunken Master”, there’s really no need to watch this.
In fact, Jackie himself sums up “Fearless Hyena” rather nicely: Midway through the third or fourth fight, during a very close shave, he withdraws a sword from between his thighs and declares “This is not funny.” Maybe that’s the problem.
Pros: A young Jackie Chan at the top of his form.
Cons: Repetition quickly becomes monotony. The slapstick-infused humor misses more than it connects.
Review Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Jackies in dresses aren’t going to fool anybody. (Jackie Chan films need to be reviewed in comparison to other Jackie Chan films; there’s just nothing else like them. Thus, while a 3.5 out of 5 may seem like a decent rating (and it is), it’s not as good as what we’ve come to expect from him.)
“The Fearless Hyena” (1979)
Also known as: “Hsiao chuan yi chao”
92 Minutes; Hong Kong / South Korea
Not Rated, but equivalent to an PG for Martial Arts action.
Jackie Chan (Shing Lung)
James Tien (Grandpa)
Dean Shek (The Coffin Seller)
Hui Lou Chen (The Unicorn)
Sai-kun Yam (Yen)
Kuen Li (The Master)
Directed by: Jackie Chan and Kenneth Tsang
Viewing Format: DVD