“Kung Fu Killer” is like a roundhouse kick from the past of Donnie Yen
For those Hong Kong martial arts movie buffs who find their attention flagging during the nonfight scenes in the Donnie Yen-starrer “Kung Fu Killer” (Othername: SAT QUYEN) there’s always Name the Cameo.
Balanced on the razor edge between parody and the real thing, Teddy Chan’s Kung Fu Killer combines two B-movie pleasures—the rote serial killer procedural and the wire-assisted kung fu stunt—into a flurry of snapped elbows, shattering furniture, and ba-dunk sound effects.
A maniac with a club foot is offing martial-arts experts, and the only man who can catch him is kung fu teacher Hahou Mo (Donnie Yen), presently in the Hong Kong pen for manslaughter. Cue that gem of a title, best said out loud as though punctuated: Kung. Fu. Killer.
Donnie Yen has been a star for more than 20 years, but he was never a superstar until “Ip Man” in 2008 made him the top action star in Asia. And at age 51, he still is.
Part of the reason is that he is the last survivor of the great martial-artist film stars of the 1990s; Jackie Chan and Jet Li have retired from such films.
“Kung Fu Killer” is like a roundhouse kick from the past, a satisfying, old-school martial arts film that has a ’90s feel to it.
In many ways Kung Fu Jungle plays like a tribute to not just the Hong Kong movie industry of old, but also the current Hong Kong talent making movies now. Scattered throughout its run time is an almost endless list of cameos from talent both old and new: from Raymond Chow to Bruce Law (suitably playing a truck driver!).
Derek Kwok to Andrew Lau; even Jackie Chan and Lau Kar Leung make appearances, albeit on the TV screen. Cameo spotting hasn’t been this much fun since Twin Dragons. Plenty of choreographers are in the mix as well: from old school hands like Yuen Bun and Stephen Tung Wei; to new school faces like Chin Kar Lok and Nicky Li, and I’ve no doubt they all contributed to the action along with Yen who acted as the principal action director.
Of course in true to form style for a Hong Kong movie, there’s also some unintentional goofiness on display that reminds us not to take anything too seriously. One scene has Bao Qiang using his phone in the middle of a steaming hot sauna, as if it’s the most normal thing in the world; another has us believe that the whole cast and crew of a film set would run away in order for two guys to fight each other to the death.
My personal favorite moment came when Charlie Young asks Yen if he knows why the killer is committing the murders, and Yen responds back with a perfect poker face, “Because he’s a kung fu maniac!”
However, mixed in with these are enough homage’s to old school kung fu movies that the sum of all its parts equal to a highly enjoyable experience. Chen successfully transplants old kung fu movie tropes, such as Jimmy Wang Yu’s skin toughening technique in movies like Chinese Boxer, into a modern day setting, and the way in which it’s done can’t help but bring a smile to the face.
Kung Fu Jungle is a smart movie, one which knows enough about the audience it needs to appeal to, as well as the audience that it wants to appeal to, and it’s a balancing act that not many recent movies have been able to pull off.
Seemingly every walk-on outside of the leads in director Teddy Chan’s frenzied action flick is a wink-wink appearance by a major player in the industry, from Golden Harvest giant Raymond Chow on down. (The end credits show them all, for you completists.)
Otherwise, this one’s a fairly standard action package, with Yen an imprisoned fight instructor given temporary freedom by the Hong Kong police (led by Charlie Young’s cool-headed detective) to find a serial killer (Wang Baoqiang). The psycho’s gimmick: knocking off martial arts masters in various specialties, be it fistwork, footwork or weaponry.
“Ip Man” star Yen handles his handsomely serious appeal quite nicely as the hero, letting Wang work up a deliciously insane sweat as he screws his face into a dozen expressions of crazy. The plot is predictable, but the inevitable showdown is, appropriately, the movie’s highlight, a ferocious hands-on battle — save for the balletic bamboo pole interlude — on a busy, night-lit expressway, with semis and cars roaring past. It’s a climax worthy of the tribute thread running through “Kung Fu Killer.”
Genre: Action & Adventure, Art House & International, Mystery & Suspense
Directed By: Teddy Chan
Stars: Donnie Yen, Baoqiang Wang, Charlie Yeung
Written By: Teddy Chan, Tin Shu Mak
In Theaters: Apr 24, 2015 Wide
On Disc/Streaming: Jul 21, 2015
Box Office: $88,024
Runtime: 100 minutes
Studio: Well Go USA
CRITIC REVIEWS FOR KUNG FU KILLER
Teddy Chen’s combination police procedural and kick-ass action film provides a sturdy vehicle for longtime Hong Kong star Donnie Yen, who at age 51 proves he’s still in good enough shape to deliver all the right moves.
Kung Fu Killer manages to be your better-than-average chop-socky fun for a couple of reasons, starting with veteran actor Donnie Yen in the lead as Mo Hahou, who can fight and emote with equal proficiency.
G. Allen Johnson
This isn’t a new golden age of martial arts films, but with Yen holding down the fort in China and southeast Asian fighters Iko Uwais and Tony Jaa, it’s a pretty good one.
An undeniably bland film in style and story, despite a few elaborately staged fight sequences.