Monday, April 27, 2015

LAPFF 2015: Kung Fu Killer Could Have Killed It

The premise, a murderer is killing kung-fu masters, the cops get a kung-fu master (Donnie Yen) out of prison to find him. A flawless premise to entertain those attending the latest Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival wanting some martial arts action. The cast is composed of cameos of kung-fu cinema's forgotten and finest. With all that going for it, it was a kick to the stomach that it wasn't the best it could be. You could karate chop the movie down to just the fights as the story is as cliche and as poorly written as most reasons people get into fights in these films. Back in the 70's it was over cocaine, now it's over loved ones.

Kung Fu Killer has us starting with Hahou Mo (Donnie Yen) being locked away for accidentally killing an opponent in a duel. News reaches him that a kung-fu master has been killed and he seeks the cop on the case Detective Luk (Charlie Young), who everybody calls "Madam." The only way he can get her attention is to fight every other UPS agent. Prison uniforms in China look like UPS uniforms. It's an old-fashioned prison brawl to show off the strength of our Mo. After seeing The Raid 2's prison fights and it's direction it starts to way on you that the film could have been made to be a top notch tier film. That was not the plan. It was made to be simple and fast.

What follows in the film is a string of fights around different masters and their disciplines. Breaking apart each. A solid way for a martial arts films to explain the culture and different combative styles. It's a nice setup that leads to no payoff.

Set design for fights was over the top as ever with a giant human skeleton battled on top of. You have the use of an active movie set. The tattoo parlor was a personal favorite because of how unrealistic it was. Whoever was set designer sure has a pension for every cool item you could ever  own. This tattoo parlor has a Coca-Cola pinball machine and array of other goodies to get smashed. The finale is in the middle of the street, at night with trucks and cars racing by.

The fighters are worth their weight in gold. To pull off some of those moves takes decades of training. There's no fight in me over that. It's the direction and capturing what they do that I will play you a game of Mortal Kombat over.

Wang Baoqiang plays the killer and does an amazing job of breaking men. His character overcame the disability of disproportionate arms and legs and turned it into skill.

The film did not overcome cliche writing. Martial art films usually don't and that's what many fans accept. The whole story is forgettable and could have gone a more comedic route or serious route. It falls on its face when we get the back story on Wang Baoqiang's murderer character and when any detective work happens.

Most direction of the film doesn't take any chances and won't get any awards. Director Teddy Chen would not be my choice to direct any more martial art films. Fights can be considerably short, lasting a few minutes. Nothing really makes you applaud his work with so much else out there that does it better. Once again, fight choreography was seamless, we needed a better director to capture it.

Was I watching a CJ Entertainment movie, the use of CGI is way too noticeable. For a film made by stuntmen it's more than a strange choice for so much awful CGI. Do you really need to add cop cars with CGI, rent some more cop cars! We can't have boats crash into each other?

For the martial arts fan it's a rental one evening, not a cult classic or that memorable a take. With such a great premise the payoff doesn't pack much of a punch.