Friday, December 5, 2008

Movie Review: The Fearless Hyena and Spiritual Kung Fu

Wow, it's been a while since I've been able to get back to my Jackie Chan Film Festival. But now that The Shield and Sons Of Anarchy are over and 24 and Lost have yet to resume, maybe I'll have a bit more time available.

Before the main feature, a brief mention of a movie in Jackie's filmography that I'm skipping past: Spiritual Kung Fu. Although released after Drunken Master, it was filmed somewhat earlier, and with the same Lo Wei-led production team that gave us such non-classics as Half A Loaf Of Kung Fu. Very broad comedy, cheap (real cheap) special effects, an overly convoluted plot, and fight scenes that range from OK to bad. One star.

But the main feature here is The Fearless Hyena, which sees Jackie taking over the writing, fight choreography and (for the first time) direction. It's pretty much just an amalgam of elements from the films immediately preceding it. You've got:

  • Jackie playing a troublemaking youth with some (but not enough) kung-fu knowledge
  • Jackie getting into trouble at a market
  • Jackie helping out a kung-fu school run by talentless teachers
  • Jackie being tortured, err, trained by a mysterious old man (although not "Sam The Seed" from the two previous movies)
  • Jackie fighting the old man with chopsticks
  • rival clans looking to wipe each other out (for some unknown reason), with Jackie on one side of the battle
  • Jackie suddenly learning a new kung-fu style near the end of the movie
  • Jackie defeats the big boss - The End.

Kind of a recap version of Snake And Crane Arts of Shaolin, Snake in the Eagle's Shadow and Drunken Master rolled into one. Maybe it's better when seen in isolation, but after seeing the other three movies recently, this one just seemed like more of the same, and lost a lot of impact in the process.

The movie also isn't very well organized. We start off watching a fight scene between the eventual Big Boss and, well, someone we don't know. Then they disappear for a long time while we follow Jackie and his time spent in a kung-fu school. Then they disappear (never to return) while Jackie switches over to training mode. Finally, the evil henchmen reappear at the very end. There's almost three entirely separate plot-lines going on. Furthermore, Jackie's character seems to veer between an expert fighter and a lousy one. Whenever he is fighting his grandfather, in particular, he becomes a bumbling fool, while outside his house, he easily defeats everyone he encounters.

Finally, the big new skill Jackie learns at the end is "emotional kung fu", where he gets to fight while giggling like an idiot, sobbing like a baby, growling like the Incredible Hulk, and generally annoying me. It's not the most annoying secret martial arts skill I've seen on film (that would be the "wildcat" from, I think, Master Of The Flying Guillotine?), but it's right up the list.

There is some good news. There are several good fight scenes (not the last one, sadly, where the giggling and sobbing begin). Particularly well done are several fights with staffs and swords; Jackie usually does well in choreographing those weapons. A 3-on-1 battle near the end of the flick is a definite highlight. And I don't think I've seen Jackie quite as ripped as he looks here, giving Stallone and Schwarzenegger a run for their money for once.

But in the end, the comedy attempts fall flat, and most of what you get here is better shown in the films just before it. Two stars is all I can manage for this one. Next up: I'll be skipping over Dragon Fist to get to Jackie's first attempt at taking the American market - The Big Brawl.

No comments: