Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Kung Fu Dunk (2008)

After surprising me with his acting chops in "Curse Of The Golden Flower" and then seeing him back to back in "True Legend" and "The Green Hornet", Jay Chou is started to become an interest of mine. The guy is a popular singer/songwriter in China and his acting career seems to be launching like a rocket, so when the opportunity to review the comedy action of "Kung Fu Dunk" the chance had to be taken up. Although its blend of over the top humor and over the top martial arts action is heavily pulled from Stephen Chow films (see "Shaolin Soccer"), the film lacks a bit of cohesiveness that would make it work like it needed. It relies on the charm of its lead and goofiness of its story to sell itself and at times it's enough to get through, but its not enough to truly send this film soaring like the dunks in its basketball sequences.

 Fang Shijie (Chou) was abandoned by a basketball court as a child. Upon discovery, he is raised in a temple of kung fu masters, where his masters and teachers find his defiant ways unsettling as a grows older despite his talent at light footed kung fu. While helping a new found friend Uncle Li (Tsang) fight off some collectors at a night club, Shijie is expelled from school and is forced to rely on Uncle Li in the real world. Together they come up with a plan...use his kung fu light feet and accuracy to earn his way as a basketball star at a university and hopefully find his parents in the mean time.

"Forget about "Green Hornet" or I'll punch you til you forget!"
On the positive side, "Kung Fu Dunk" is a lot of fun. It's packed to the brim with caricatures as characters, slap stick comedy, and super goofy and entertaining action. The basketball sequences are delightfully complex in their ridiculousness as multiple players launch six or seven feet into the air for ally-oops or shots are made flawlessly from half court and the outrageousness of the what goes down within these sequences (full on kung fu battles with robed masters of wind, needles, and anti-gravity movement? Why the hell not?) is hard not to keep one without a smile on their face. The obvious underlying message of how media treats "sports stars" is prevalent and worthy enough to give the movie a little bit of a deeper meaning and a strong mentor/mentee relationship portrays the cliche sport film nicely. "Kung Fu Dunk" is simply a visual treat of humor and cartoon like comedy that fans of Stephen Chow will love.

Inspiration from "NBA Jam"?
The major issues of "Kung Fu Dunk" are not the fun moments it can pop out, but rather the way it goes about it all. The structure and balance of the film do not flow at all. It's almost like a film whose attention span is as out of control as its characters as it leaps from scene to scene, breaking its own rules and throwing in elements that are never fully developed. A romantic subplot seems very relevant throughout the first two-thirds only to have a resolution tacked onto the ending. The search for his parents is underdeveloped for its final moments to pack the punch they need. The supporting cast of his teammates is fun, but rarely embraced in the writing. Even the reincorporated "ability to bend particles and time" comes out of the blue to give us a twist at the that makes not a lick of sense. This screws with the balance of seriousness and humor in the film (particularly when it comes to our lead's character growth in his search for parents) and it leaves the film feeling more hollow than expected.

Eric Tsang in one of his wide variety of roles.
For Jay Chou, its a wonderful experiment to see how he pulls off comedy in a larger film setting (which his soft spoken character does often enough with finesse) and the supporting cast of caricatures and ridiculous action sequences make "Kung Fu Dunk" a blast to watch if one is in the mood for goofy humor. Although the film suffers from unbalanced flow and choppy structure, it grew on me with its charming moments. Not great by any means, but a fun watch for those willing to set aside the constraints of reality.

The Well Go USA release of "Kung Fu Dunk" may not be packed to the gills with features, but they do add onto the experience. Behind the scenes and interviews really bring to life some of the decisions made for the film (particularly when it comes to how complex the action set pieces are) and are well worth the watch for those who even enjoyed the film a little bit.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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