REVIEW: KUNG FU KILLER a.k.a. KUNG FU JUNGLE (2014)
Director (and actor) Teddy Chan’s KUNG FU KILLER (overseas and elsewhere known by the title KUNG FU JUNGLE) is the story of a martial arts instructor on the police force who gets locked up for accidentally killing a man during a fight. While Hahou Mo (Donnie Yen) is busy serving a five year sentence, a serial killer has started to go around killing talented martial artists in very violent and grisly manners, each victim a master of their fighting technique and each killed in a manner specific to their special fighting style. The same symbolic token is left at each crime scene.
Mo (Yen) sees the news while in prison and realizes he knows exactly whom the murderer is and that he must help the police catch the bastard. After getting denied an immediate phone call by a prison guard and told to go through the usual channels and fill out a form, Mo (Yen) decides to kick the living shit out of all 17 inmates within his cell block area. The fight scene which ensues is action-packed, frenetically-paced, and full of a glorious intensity that is reminiscent of some of the greatest Hong Kong Action Films that I remember watching during their heyday like any Bruce Lee film, a number of films from Jackie Chan’s earlier days, and any number of early Jet Li fights.
One learns early on that the film is going to be focused on top-notch action and fight choreography, while complemented by a standard plot that does not really add much to the film but certainly does not take anything away from it either. At first I thought the film may have been going in some supernatural martial arts direction, but I realized that the killing martial artist was just phenomenal at his craft, even while possessing a birth defect such as having uneven length of in his legs.
The element of having police and detectives as central to the plot, along with the martial arts aspect, draw the film into the HK Action Film arena and don’t just make it a straight-up martial arts flick, which is nice if you get bored with non-stop fight scenes with little to no substance in dialogue. The police portion of the film, led by actress Charlie Yeung as Detective Luk Yuen-Sum, moves the story along while scenes of our killer dispatching each “retired” master fill up any sort of down time within the story and plot. If one is not big on plots within their action films and just want filler scenes solely inserted into a film to set up the next brutal fight scene, than this may be your film. There is a story behind Donnie Yen’s character Hahou Mo and his adversary, Fung Yu-Sau (Baoqiang Wang) but I really was just happy to watch incredibly intricate fight scenes and was floored to see that one of my favorite actors/martial artists from one of my all-time favorite martial arts gorefests was cast in this film as one of the masters of fighting: Louis Fan a.k.a. Siu-Wong Fan from STORY OF RICKY a.k.a. RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY. One may have also noticed Fan also in some previous films with Donnie Yen like IP MAN, IP MAN 2, and another entry in the IP MAN series sans Mr. Yen, THE LEGEND IS BORN: IP MAN. *On a sidenote, IP MAN 3 is currently filming!
There are also a bunch of brief cameos by well-known actors, actresses, directors, producers, creators, and even a writer/authority on films within the HK Action Film genre (although now one has to slip Chinese in that genre description since Hong Kong is went back to China) such as Bey Logan (writer, martial artist, authority on HK Action Films), Teddy Chan (the director of this film pulling a Hitchock), Andrew Lau (well-known cinematographer, director, and producer), Peter Kam (eight-time winner at Hong Kong Film Awards and composer of this film’s score), Kirk Wong (director of a bunch of well-known Hong Kong films and America’s THE BIG HIT), Tony Leung (as Siu-Hung Leung), an incredible stunt choreographer and actor, Cheang Pou-Soi (director and actor), legendary film producer Raymond Chow (worked for Shaw Bros. for years and founded Golden Harvest and worked with all the great HK Action stars), Dion Lam (HK Action choreographer), and a bunch of others who worked on the film or were specially cast in brief roles because of their connection to this genre’s film industry. KUNG FU KILLER really is one of those Hong Kong-Chinese Action Films that if you blink, you may miss a unique cameo.
Since KUNG FU KILLER is an action flick full of loads of challenging fight choreography I would like to point out some of the best fight scenes within the film such as the opening scene with 17 inmates attacking Donnie Yen, many of them attacking all at once. This impressive scene is straight hand-to-hand combat with no weaponry at all (minus a metal seat cover that another inmate uses for battle). I like it for its realism. Some of the scenes take great lengths to display the acrobatics of the fights and sometimes they get to crazy, especially if the film is going for the realistic approach. There is a scene with my favorite actor from RIKI-OH as he is portraying a Martial Artist swordsman and weapons master turned stuntman and this segment does have a bit of the flashy showmanship that these films are generally known for and I was hugely disappointed that the director decided to go with using some CGI gore for cut wounds, but it is a cool scene. Not only are swords incorporated, but a box cutter and metal pipe are also used. Death by boxcutter!
The film builds up tension between our star, Donnie Yen, and his co-star Charlie Yeung, as the two learn more and more about each other’s character and one’s personal agenda. But who cares about the story!?!?! Let’s get back to some more epic fight scenes full of snazzy maneuvers and flawlessly edited shots and scenes of violence shot at breakneck speeds! All the scenes of fighting within the film really do build up to the final scene pitting Mo (Yen) against Wang (Fung Yu-Sau) in a battle on a highway where both fighters use whatever is at their disposal. It just turned out convenient that a semi hauling bamboo poles just happens to drive by and swerve, causing a bunch of them to fly off the flatbed for our stars’ to use in battle against each other! It is times like this when things get a little hokey, but I am watching these types of films for laughs, action, fighting, and pure entertainment. The film is on-par with many of its brethren in the same genre so if one digs police action-dramas that are heavily smothered with incredible scenes of martial arts fights and battles, filled with some realism, blood, and gore with an emphasis on KILLING (because as our villain repeatedly tells everyone in the film that “Real martial arts is for killing!“), than KUNG FU KILLER is your film!
The film is in Cantonese with English subtitles and because I am just primarily reviewing a screener and not the final product yet to be released by Well Go USA, that is about it as far as details to specs on the film. I do hope that the subtitles appear bigger and are easier to read than my copy of them was. I literally had to sit at the foot of my bed so I was only four feet away from the television and my screen is not super small either.
Since Well Go USA picked up the North American distribution rights to this bad boy, I reviewed a screener of the movie as the official U.S. Theatrical release of this film was April 24th (Doh! I missed it when it came to the Chicago area!), but it still is playing in some theaters in the U.S. so head over to the film’s official website HERE for the remaining dates and showtimes. If one would like to see KUNG FU KILLER when it is released on VOD/Digital HD on various platforms, it is now available to stream. If one is interested in owning this bad boy (as I am!), July 21st it comes to Blu-ray and DVD. Click here to pre-order it on Amazon. As it probably will be loaded with extra features (I am hoping!), I recommend picking it up and get it on Blu-ray for high def awesomeness!