Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Kung-Fu Master Review: He Plays with Older Women

Why am I writing to you about an artsy French film with subtitles, video games. Kung Fu Master! may be more about the love story of a forty-year-old women with two daughters dating a fifteen-year-old kid, but it also spends a thoughtful and decent amount of time explaining the arcade game Kung-Fu Master and even Dungeons & Dragons.

I'm unsure why Kung-Fu Master was chosen as the game played by the kid, Julien, in the film, maybe because it was rather popular at the time, but insanely enough the IREM game is the father of all beat-em up and fighters. The guy who help create Street Fighter made it and it's the start of the side-scrolling beat-em up craze that everyone copied. After it came out, you slowly got Final Fight and all the over-the-top games based on martial art films.

Delving into the story may not be your taste as it's an intense drama about the love affair between Mary-Jane, a Mom of two and Julien, a high school student. Mary-Jane finds Julien cute at her daughter's party and soon they start to hang out.

On one of their first outings Julien explains the game Kung-Fu Master and after a few trips we see the arcades of France in the early 1980's. Julien explains how to play the game on the level of a "Let's Play", video on YouTube, explaining how the game works and its goals. If it weren't for Mary-Jane looking at him so lovingly it would have been a really thoughtful explanation of the arcade game. I mean you have a point in the film where D&D (Dungeons & Dragons) sounds like pillow talk. And it was a really good explanation of how the game works. When any film can make D&D dirty you know it has something to keep you invested in it.

The film starts with a short live-action play of Kung-Fu Master with Julien in a karate outfit strolling as if in 2D throwing kicks and punches to sound effects until he confronts a boss, some guy holding a stick. Then it all abruptly ends, which for a non-gamer may have just been the oddest sight to see.

The film has more oddities for the American viewer. There's the rampant use of underage drinking and smoking. It is France, but I believe a Mom at one point says she's cleaning up her sons room and his ashtray? We start the film with a party where  kids are just playing with a condom from a magazine, these are fourteen and fifteen-year-olds. The booze and the tobacco smoke flow.

AIDS was a large part of the film, this is also noticeable in many Asian films of the time. Because AIDS, let's say was popular at the time, the film reflects that often. I'm not sure if it was to remind us of the sexual tension between Julien and Mary-Jane or it was just a subject of the time to make the film seem modern.

Hitler, he just shows up. Not as a character, but if you watch any older film from the 80's Hitler or a Nazi reference will pop up. Julien is wearing an SS soldier helmet and drawing pictures of Hitler with Mary-Jane's daughter for a school project and it does take you out for a second as to how French humor deals with Hitler.

As for the love story it's a perfect controversial topic to explore that so many people make fun of French films for. It's synonymous with the idea of what French films are known for when they cover topics like incest, homosexuality and transgender. At least when they covered them more than other countries, America started going after indie homosexual films for a while and transgender is the new black.

Director Agn├Ęs Varda captures a forbidden love story, that is hard to watch and leaves you squeamish in some parts. She captures the motivations and the times of the 80's through Julien to a level in which I wish she directed video game movies or docs on the subject.

The film was recently restored, look for it on VOD and streaming services.