Kung Pow: Enter The Fist Review
There have been parody sequences of Martial Arts films in the large majority of major American 'spoof' movies for as long as I can remember (as far back as The Kentucky Fried Movie) but given the huge boost in popularity the martial arts genre has seen of late it was only a matter of time before there was an entire movie dedicated to the cause. Step forward Mr. Steve Oedekerk, the writer of several comedy hits for the likes of Jim Carrey and Eddie Murphy and the man behind the popular 'Thumb Parody' series of short films. Obviously a fan of classic Hong Kong martial arts movies he is also the victim of one too many atrociously dubbed video renditions of said classics and has chosen the comedic value of these dubs to form the basis of the martial arts parody that is Kung Pow: Enter the Fist.
Rather than simply create an entirely new movie that parodies the classics of old, Oedekerk has taken footage from one such classic (Tiger and Crane Fist from Jimmy Wang Yu) and digitally inserted himself and a few other actors in to a re-arranged cut that also includes the occasional slice of completely new footage. The major changes come in the form of Oedekerk's decision to create a new script that sees him personally dub the entire cast from the original with his own voice creations, and that even includes dubbing the new footage of himself and others for that seamless 'English Dub' effect (with the exception of Jennifer Tung who dubbed herself). The story woven around the new and old footage is a simple affair akin to the movies it parodies and sees Oedekerk's character, The Chosen One, searching for the man who deprived him of his parents and a loving home at an early age. This quest brings The Chosen One to a small village where he enlists the help of Master Tang, an old man with a penchant for inserting the fist of fury into his students (quite literally) in just one of the many gags revolving around this characters sexual preference. Surrounding Master Tang and The Chosen One is the token idiot, Wimp Lo, who we are told via a great comic moment was purposely trained incorrectly and also has a rather irritating squeak in his step. The lovely Ling however provides the love interest in the form of a cute girl with pigtails who makes strange noises during conversation (and no doubt other activities). Oh, and she has curly 'cues' that make The Chosen One so horny he can't think straight.
The evil master The Chosen One seeks out is known as Master Pain, though he publicly changes his name to Betty in the early stages of the film, a scene that I personally thought was hilarious in its utter madness. Before all this we are given an example of Betty's prowess in martial arts when he has several men beat him with poles. Despite being hit repeatedly in a place that God only intended to be treated with care, Betty is somehow unaffected by this act or brutality so The Chosen One decides to undergo the same test to see if he shares this unique ability in what proves to be one of the films few truly hilarious moments. The basic storyline revolves around these central characters and hits all of the mainstays of classic Hong Kong martial arts movie making. The Chosen One trains to beat his adversary, is defeated but not killed, and then he trains some more before the final confrontation. In between all of this we are treated to several extremely minor sub plots that I am fairly sure have never made it into the martial arts pictures of old, but given the vast number made who can say for sure. What does need to be clarified though is the quality of the comedy Oedekerk has scripted for this relatively short effort.
Well, unfortunately for a movie parodying others Kung Pow: Enter the Fist offers few laugh out loud moments that to me are what films within this genre are all about. On top of the gags previously mentioned only a few others managed to personally hit the spot - these included Betty's subordinate who provides his musical accompaniment by carrying around a beat box that plays tunes including 'You Can't Touch This' and 'Baby Got Back'. While Betty himself is by far Oedekerks greatest accomplishment as the ridiculous dubbed voice he provides camps up the proceedings to bursting point and captures the essence of really bad dubbing to a point that deserves rapturous applause. Sure I also found the gags on old school martial arts films amusing, the laughably out of synch dubbing, the plays on the stereotypical characters found in such movies and also the events that are commonly seen and then taken to the extreme (the training sequences for example), even the gag regarding the use of camera zooms is well placed but none of this works consistently throughout an 80-minute movie that felt 30-minutes too long.
The nail that seals Kung Pow in the strictly average comedy coffin is the overuse of truly ridiculous plot elements. Tonguey, the face found on The Chosen One's tongue is initially set up to be an integral 'character' and although he does return for the closing minutes I would argue that even the filmmakers realised just how dire this creation was and chose to omit it for the large majority of the film. Other examples include CGI fight sequences that see the Ally McBeal baby and a Cow of all creatures busting a move, the latter of which was heavily advertised as a key sequence in the movie and to say it disappoints in both the action and comedic stakes is an understatement. Elements of the story such as these stand out a mile not only technically (the low budget shows) but as obvious plot additions in a film that really struggles to keep the audience interested by the mid way point. All of this begs the question: Should you really be watching a movie of this genre and finding yourself picking out the varied technical flaws? The simple answer is no, because although the film is flawed technically in terms of the filming techniques utilised a successful comedy should have you laughing so hard you pass them by, for Kung Pow I found the exact opposite was happening for me.
While these 'ridiculous' elements may sound humorous and you may think I am being too harsh on a movie that does not take itself seriously, I can honestly say that as someone who personally enjoys the likes of the Hot Shots movies and pretty much anything by Mike Myers and Jim Carrey that I have an open mind to puerile entertainment. Kung Pow certainly fits the bill but it never gets it quite right and as such falls short of the 'laugh until you cry' mark and instead hovers around the 'permanent grin on your face' level of humour.
Presented in the original 2.35:1 Widescreen aspect ratio and featuring anamorphic enhancement Kung Pow: Enter the Fist looks as good as the source allows which makes this a tough one to assess given the filmmaking methods employed. The large majority of the film is taken from a 1976 Hong Kong movie and for anyone familiar with Hong Kong films from this era will know they are rarely kept in good condition. Fortunately in this case they have gone to reasonable lengths to clean up the source and despite noticeable print damage, constant grain, dull colours and a strange effect that sees light emanate from most characters these sections of the film look pretty good. Further to that all of the new footage created for Kung Pow has been modified so it matches the old footage used so despite looking much cleaner and slightly more colourful in places you will still see constant grain and for the most part a muted colour scheme in action. As a result of all this detail levels vary hugely depending on whether the sequence you are viewing is old or new, and much the same can be said for the colour reproduction which varies based upon the source. Overall though compression is of a very high quality and you cannot really fault the transfer as it offers a solid representation of the film and you cannot ask for anything more.
The DD5.1 mix present is very clean and provides a fine rendition of the original audio though surprisingly for a recent movie the sound mix is quite restrained and only makes any real use of the surrounds during the CGI based fight sequence involving the cow. Otherwise the mix is very focused on the front speakers so offers little to flex your home cinemas muscle but will do you know harm as it is always easy on the ears.
Optional English subtitles are available for the main feature.
Firstly I should mention the Menu's created for this disc as they are hosted by characters from the movie, animated South Park style, and it really is very well put together and makes the disc a lot of fun to explore. Even better is the fact that these menu's are not here to disguise a lack of bonus material as the disc is a packed affair as I shall explain below.
As always I head to the Audio Commentary on a disc if one is available. For Kung Pow you will find a track featuring Director Steve Oedekerk and Producer/Editor Paul Marshal. Both participants were recorded in the same room and play off each other well and given the nature of the film they go for a joke filled track interspersed with a reasonable selection of technical information on the filmmaking process. Oedekerk dominates and is easily identifiable as someone who loves to entertain and entertain he does but not at the expense of some interesting facts relating to the original Jimmy Wang-Yu movie they used, how it was chosen and the processes involved to insert himself and others into that film. On the whole I found this to be an enjoyable and entertaining track that only started to become dry towards the latter quarter of the movie.
Also available on the audio side of things are two Alternate Audio Tracks that are both presented in DD2.0 Stereo and offer a quite unique sonic experience for the film. First up is a track titled What were they really saying? and is essentially the original audio language track for the film. Now as the film was completely dubbed (even the English dialogue sections) this track allows you to hear the original mandarin dialogue from the Chinese actors and the original English dialogue as spoken by Oedekerk and Jennifer Tung. The latter was specially written by Oedekerk to appear close in terms of lip movement to the final script that he then used to dub over the entire film, but it is far from identical and mostly involves him gibbering on about pies, pastries and reptiles! One let down for myself on this feature was the lack of English subtitles for the Mandarin dialogue sequences that while no big loss to many, would have been a welcome bonus to Hong Kong movie fans such as myself.
The second alternate audio track, Kung Pow: The long-lost book on tape version, sees the movie narrated and voice acted by a well spoken English gentlemen who quite frankly sounds completely absurd considering the material he is covering but then, that's the point of this track. Both this and the original audio track are best sampled in small portions as they begin to lose their appeal fairly quickly when listened to in one go, but when sampled as suggested can prove to be a fun way to experience the movie.
A Making of featurette (5:43mins) acts as an extended trailer that due to its tongue-in-cheek nature is certainly worth a look but will unlikely ever be viewed again while a Pow Visual Effects section offers a little more substance. In here you will find Visual Effects Before and After Shots (2:02mins) that show the techniques employed to place Oedekerk into the original 1976 movie footage, while a Cow Visual Effects Before and After Shots (1:26mins) feature shows Oedekerk doing all of his blue screen work before the CGI cow is placed into the frame with him. Rounding off this section is an enjoyable Pre-visualisation Cow Animatic (3:50mins) that shows the original (and quite basic) idea for the cow fight sequence in animated 3D form in what is also an extended version of the final sequence.
An entire section dedicated to Cut Scenes houses 14 of them with a total running time of just over 27-minutes. In here you will find a variety of short sequences that were justifiably cut including a weak alternate opening, but not all of it is bad. There is a 10-minute sub plot for example that was removed and sees The Chosen One tortured, partake in a cock fight (think about it!) and drown his and Tonguey's sorrows in Sake while an 'I Believe' song sequence is available in both the dub and original language versions, all of which are as funny as some of the better gags found in the main film. Rounding off the Cut Scenes is an extended directors cut version of The Chosen One taking a beating from Betty. This was cut because it is actually quite brutal and does not really fit in with the comedic style of the film though it will certainly raise a smile out of the more sadistic amongst us.
Next on the menu is a fairly insignificant extra by the name of Tonguey Tribute and is simply a 50-second compilation of Tonguey related clips from the film. Of far more interest is a Scenes with Alternate Dialogue section that contains six such scenes with a total running time of just over 3-minutes. Oedekerk mentions in the audio commentary how they would record several versions of the dub as they had a lot of fun with it so this section allows you to sample six short scenes from the film with alternative dialogue including one more sexual preference related joke from Master Tang for good measure.
As we come to the end of the features everything becomes very promotional in nature. First of all there are 3 Promos that I believe were created for the Fox TV station and run for around 2-minutes total. These feature the same 2D South Park style animated versions of The Chosen One and Betty as found on the menu system of this disc, and they pretty much do the same thing as they fight, dance and promote the film in between Fox TV programming.
Also present is a Photo Gallery section that includes a range of stills (Film Frames, Cast and Behind-the-scenes), press notes and biographies of the main cast and crew. Rounding off the disc is A Fond Farewell that runs for 50-seconds and is the 2D animated versions of The Chosen One and Betty thanking you for buying the DVD, while the main menu screen also includes a link to A Panicked Thumb that runs for just 7-seconds and is a teaser of Oedekerks 'Thumb' parody shorts.
Finally I should mention the two Easter Eggs (of which only one is worth discovering) and the fact that all bonus material is English subtitled with the small (and unusual) exception of the 3 Promos.
As negative as this review may sound Kung Pow: Enter The Fist does manage to entertain with both minor and major laughs throughout so if you use the well placed Intermission (yes, it does have one!) to stretch your legs you may just find this suitable for a rental and a few giggles will surely be raised, but sadly nothing more.