Criterion Chan: FEARLESS HYENA
Criterion just put eight Jackie Chan films on the Criterion Channel (possibly the best looking of all the streaming channels out there). With the world being horrible, I thought a look at one of action cinema’s sweeter onscreen personas had a pleasing ring to it. I wish I could include all eight films, but there are only five days of the week. Right now, anyway.
Today’s Film: FEARLESS HYENA
A silver-haired badass and his three goons wander the countryside looking to eradicate every member of a martial arts clan he personally dislikes, seemingly as a matter of snobbery. Jackie Chan and his grandfather happen to be members of that clan. After an hour of mostly unrelated hijinks, the badass kills Chan’s grandfather. Chan must learn a new kung fu technique to defeat him. The last half hour of this movie is off the damn wall.
But first, we have silliness. Most of the movie involves Chan, who is good at kung fu but not a master, working for a local businessman who wants to open a new school and hires Chan to beat up challengers in an effort to quickly raise the school’s name. Because he’s doing this in secret from gramps, Chan fights in cartoonish disguises. In one case, he dresses as a lady, leading to a long sexual harassment fight that is really something else.
There is no real narrative value to all this; it’s more Chan’s (who wrote and directed) excuse to inject the film with a shitload of kung fu fun before things get serious. Much as I love FEARLESS HYENA’s final half hour, there is nothing wrong with watching Chan beat people up while dressed in silly disguises.
Chan’s Mental Age:
I put him at sixteen. Even in its silly stage, FEARLESS HYENA feels more mature than SPIRITUAL KUNG FU. The film begins with Chan already well into his training, and the plot ameliorates his status as a goofball by letting him win all his fights until things get serious.
And when things get serious, they really do get serious. Chan wails at the death of his grandfather in a way that wins our sympathy and thirst for revenge. We also feel bad for him when he first attacks the villain and gets his ass handed to him. The technique he learns from his new master utilizes emotions to overcome his opponent, which is a really cool approach that allows Chan to play notes beyond just being silly. Like, for instance, anger.
The final fight is truly great. Chan first takes out the villain's three goons, all armed with blades. He teases them - letting them think they’ve won at one point, cutting off one of their braided ponytails at another - before utilizing anger to slice the shit out of them.
Of course, he cycles through all his emotions while fighting the main villain, and it’s a ton of fun. The bad guy’s main move is jabbing at opponents and squeezing their torso fat in a way that sounds silly but looks incredibly painful (particularly when it draws blood). He keeps trying to grab Chan’s neck, but he’s so angry that he rejects the blow simply by flexing. Chan then kills the guy by flipping him upside down and slamming his balls. Twice. I mean, what more do you want.
Having said all that, the best fight is actually a training tussle in which Chan must overcome a wooden staff while dancing on tiny pots strewn around a room. Obviously, it’s not as intense as the final fight, but it’s the most fun and impressive example of Chan’s particular style.
No real improvised weapon work here. Instead, I’ll point out one great bit during the wacky first hour. Chan and a bladed opponent fight around Chan’s employer as he sits in a chair with a banana sticking out of his mouth. Through the quick sparring, we see the blade cut the banana short one piece at a time, all in one uninterrupted shot.
Second Biggest Badass:
I gotta give it to the absolute unit Chan fights while dressed as a lady. It’s a silly duel, but the guy makes it a lot of fun. At one point Chan tries to break a brick on his head to no effect. So the guy grabs the brick and does it to himself, just to show how tough he is.
FEARLESS HYENA doesn’t have a bunch of show stopping stunts, just many examples of Jackie Chan disobeying the laws of gravity in ways that make him look like a magician.