The Fearless Hyena (1979)

Somehow, even before Jackie Chan appears on screen, you just know you’re in better hands than you were with the last three early works of his that we saw… possibly because we’re now in his hands. Lo Wei had loaned him out to Seasonal Films where Jackie finally had his first big hits with Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and Drunken Master; Chan now went back to Lo to fulfil his contract and repeat the kung fu comedy experiment with himself in the director’s seat for the first time. Finally he had a hit for Lo Wei as well, and with some good reason; by this time Chan was clearly far more certain of what worked for him than Lo ever was. We’ve seen this plot before, where powerful evil agents for the Qing government are hunting down and killing their opponents, one of whom happens to be Jackie’s grandfather, and it’s through Jackie—no match for the old man but skilled enough to take on most other comers and thereby inadvertently attract unwanted attention—that General Yen finds him, setting the stage for a grand vengeful battle. It all works nicely right from the start, the fights (including a terrific one with Jackie in drag) are better, the humour feels much more deliberate, the sound effects are exaggerated even by Hong Kong standards, it makes better use of Chan’s physicality and agility, and it just feels like more of a “Jackie Chan film”; he even looks more like “Jackie Chan”. And, as I said, he finally had a hit to end his contract with Lo Wei, who he got the hell away from as soon as he could thereafter; it feels like a reward for the viewer, too, with Chan’s star quality finally becoming fully apparent after being mostly hidden under a bushel in the last three films we’ve considered.

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