More noise than signal

Kung Pow

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site,

Tiger and Crane Fist is an unbelievably obscure 1977 chop sockey film which I have no experience of, but as this film deviates substantially from any semblance of a sane plot, that isn’t a prime consideration. Oedekerk plays The Chosen One, a man granted great powers of kung-fu and strangely a tongue with it’s own eyes and mouth. He is on a quest for vengeance, his family having been killed when he was a baby by Master Pain, a bad ‘un if ever there was one.

The opening of the movie shows this event, but also shows the Chosen One kicking some ass as a CG baby, which really doesn’t look right at all and doesn’t seem to be as funny on-screen as perhaps it was on the script. It’s a weak opening, I thought, which perhaps explains the largely (very) negative reaction to it. First impressions count move than they have any right to, but if you can see past this there are some better parts, for me tending towards the throwaway oneliners than the more obvious and somewhat laboured jokes.

Case in point – the baby escapes and rolls off down a hill, which quickly cuts to a shot of Oedekerk walking over a plain while a voiceover mentions in passing that he was ‘raised by various rodents’. This info-nugget gets used later, but isn’t overblown at this point, which makes it appreciably better. Compare this to a fight between Chosen One and a CG cow acting as Master Pain’s guardian, which isn’t funny at all. It even features yet another Matrix bullet time parody, albeit one of the best ones, but the well has run dry by this point. (At least Oedekerk himself recognises this, in interviews saying that he was very close to removing it before convinced by his crew to keep it in.)

Most of the best lines are from the revoiced sections, particularly after Master Pain decides to henceforth be called by the warriors’ name of ‘Betty’. Yes, it’s dumb, but seeing his henchmen running up to him at various point throughout the film saying stuff like ‘Betty, Betty, he’s alive, Betty’ in a lisping tone has a certain uncomplicated charm.

Kung-Pow is big on physical humour, as you may expect, and being kung-fu based it’s appropriate that it’s hit and miss. Oedekerk calls on his Ace Ventura 2 experience to bring us a set of nunchukas made from gophers. After seeing Master Pain being assaulted to no effect by his bo-wielding sidekicks, The Chosen One tries to replicate the feat with his own troupe of friends. He instructs them not to stop until he gives the signal or ‘throws them off dramatically’. He’s swiftly knocked unconscious, but the beating continues after a brief discussion by the others establishes that going limp and falling over probably isn’t the signal to stop. There’s an obligatory musical number. There’s a disciple at the kung-fu school Chosen One ends up allied with who has been deliberately trained incorrectly, so that he thinks his ‘your feet hitting my face’ style is the strongest, leading to the line ‘My blood is on your fists, thus I win’.

So there are some examples. If you think they sound funny go rent it, if that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea leave well alone. The technical manipulation of the old footage is pulled off as well as seems possible, with the weak link being the CG fight footage. Given that this is of a baby fighting Master Pain and Oedekerk fighting a kung-fu cow, saying that it doesn’t look realistic isn’t a valid criticism, but saying that it looks amateurish and dated is. Fun fact – this film has more effects shots than The Phantom Menace, largely because everything has been digitised, even if just to make it look like an old film. Madness.

What Oedekerk has been undeniably successful in is matching the look and feel of the seventies movies, and the almost entirely interchangeable visuals common to seemingly all of them. When the new footage sticks out from the Tiger and Crane Fist material it’s only due to the reliance on CG, with the rest being near seamless. Impressive, given the small budget he had to work with, and arguably a greater achievement than the script deserves. While its whole concept is to poke fun at the genre, Oedekerks’ love of the source material shows through ensuring that it’s never merely dismissive. At around 80 minutes runtime, it doesn’t have time to outstay it’s welcome either.

Unfortunately, it’s not quite enough to balance out its flaws. Anyone saying this is the worst film they’ve seen clearly haven’t seen Dreamcatcher yet, but it’s fair to say that it won’t be entered into the hall of cinematic fame.