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KUNG POW: ENTER THE FIST

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Steve Oedekerk, Jennifer Tung, Leo Lee
Director:  Steve Oedekerk
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  20th Century Fox
Features:  See Review
Length:  81 Minutes
Release Date:  July 23, 2002

“Where does it hurt?”

“Pretty much around the big bloody spot.”

“I’ll get the Neosporin.”

Film ***

One would have to consider Steve Oedekerk’s Kung Pow as a risky undertaking at best.  Here is a movie geared pretty much toward a very select crowd…one that has seen enough Hong Kong kung fu pictures to appreciate his little digs at the nuances and stylings of them.  Those who haven’t might find their brains clawing their way out of their heads to escape the lower-order lunacy.

Fortunately, I happen to be of the former crowd, and while Kung Pow is far from perfect, I still give it high marks for being an impeccable spoof of a genre I know and love well, as well as for technical feat and originality.

Star/writer/director Steve Oedekerk actually has done one better than just create a martial arts spoof out of thin air.  He has actually taken an obscure 1976 Hong Kong release entitled Tiger and Crane Fist, and using the same technology that allowed Forrest Gump to talk to presidents, puts himself in the middle of the action.  The original somber, tragic tone has been replaced by sheer loony fun as Oedekerk, as The Chosen One, trains, fights and milks his way through a good old fashioned Hong Kong revenge tale.

It all starts when The Chosen One is an infant…his family is killed by the evil Master Pain, who later inexplicably re-dubs himself Betty.  Even as a babe in the cradle, The Chosen One has some moves, and if you’re like me and have never seen a baby kicking major butt, you’ll be in for your first big laugh sequence.

The Chosen One grows up and is marked by a thing on the tip of his tongue that you’ll have to see for yourself.  He seeks revenge against Master Pain…er, Betty, but he’ll need some help along the way.  He finds friendship in another martial arts Master, Ling, his lovely daughter Whoa (Tung), who benefits most from the film’s zany editing style., and Wimp Lo (“He is an idiot…we have purposely trained him wrong as a joke…”)  There are many fights along the way, as The Chosen One takes on hoards of Betty’s men, uses gopher-chuks to save the day, and even does battle with a cow…in an age of movies that have gone mad with Matrix spoofs, the cow-fight boasts the best one I’ve yet seen…it’s udderly fantastic (sorry…couldn’t resist).

But the plot is inconsequential.  The REAL humor comes from the digs at aspects fans know and love about these Hong Kong movies.  The sudden zooms with melodramatic music cues.  The wire work.  Most importantly, the horrendous dubbing…Oedekerk and company had a field day putting new words into old actors’ mouths, and as an added touch, he and his modern insert characters don’t speak their actual dialogue, either, but meaningless gibberish in order to continue the bad-dubbing effect throughout!  (As a bonus on this disc, you can listen to an audio track containing the original Mandarin dialogue and what Steve and his cohorts actually did say on set).

What can easily be overlooked, however, is the technical triumph this movie is…easily overlooked because it seems so effortless.  Scenes you’d assume were shot brand new with character doubles haven’t been; take a closer look and you’ll see the work that went into inserting Oedekerk into the original 1976 film.  He interacts with the other characters flawlessly; he touches them, fights them, even carries one with an arm around his shoulder.  Other scenes are more simply accented by, say, adding a man with a boom box in the background so that a fight scene can be carried out to the tune of “Baby Got Back”.

I know many critics dismissed this film, and their reasons are indicative of the two crowds of film fans I mentioned earlier.  Many did not get the point of the obviously out-of-sync dubbing, and those who didn’t had no chance of getting anything else about the picture, either.  I love the kung fu genre, and it’s Oedekerk’s sense of ridiculing everything about those movies that can be ridiculed that made this picture into a fun experience for me.  The other side of the coin, however, is that the picture will have little to no comic value to those without experience in the classic Hong Kong action pictures.

So I speak instead to those like me, who enjoy their action films from Asia, who like to laugh at horrendous English dubbing, and who think the exaggerated sound effects of a Hong Kong fight scene are as much a part of cinematic vocabulary as the whooshing of a light saber.  For us, Kung Pow offers an hour and a half of silly, irreverent fun.

Video ***

This is the hard part…how do you judge a picture that’s largely composed of footage from a 1976 Hong Kong film, where the modern clips are actually made to look just as old as the original picture?  I think you just have to commend it for achieving the look it was striving for and leave it at that.  So of course, Kung Pow is not going to be one of the best looking DVDs you own, but if it were, that would spoil part of the fun.  Again, this falls under the category of whether or not you appreciate the old classic martial arts pictures enough to get the visual joke!

Audio ****

Nothing shoddy about the audio track, however, which uses 5.1 capabilities to expand the goofy sound effects of kung fu movies into new dimensions!  The audio is gleefully overdone, making use of all channels with smooth crossover, dynamic punch and plenty of action…hell, even simple gestures get wind slicing sound effects.  Badly dubbed dialogue never sounded so good, either!  High marks.

Features ****

This DVD is labeled “The Chosen Edition”, and Fox has packed it nicely with extras, starting with some very nicely done menu screens.  There are three audio options, including a fun and frenetic commentary track by Steve Oedekerk and producer Paul Marshal that’s both funny and detailed.  A second, as mentioned, is the ability to listen to the pre-dubbed original audio, and a third is a strange but amusing book-on-tape play by play.  Those are just the beginning.

There is a short making-of featurette, and three special effects vignettes that demonstrate how Oedekerk was placed into the film, how the cow fight worked, and the original computer animatic for the cow fight.  There are 14 deleted scenes and 6 alternate takes (some of which are quite funny), a trailer, a “panicked thumb” (a quick clip from Oedekerk’s Thumb Wars), and at least of couple of Easter eggs to be found.

Rounding out is a photo gallery, some Fox TV spots, and a “fond farewell”.  All in all, a features package fit for a Kung!…er, king…

Summary:

In the end, I can only hope I’ve made it very clear who this picture is for.  If you haven’t experienced a fair share of authentic kung fu movies from Hong Kong, please don’t write me and tell me how off I am for liking Kung Pow.  It’s not a film for every audience, but for the right audience, it’s more than half a loaf of genre-spoofing fun “milked” for everything it’s worth.