Kung Fu Killer, much like it’s name, is a seriously flawed blend of quality elements that just don’t mix well. David Carradine isn’t a great actor but in the right role, like his plausible bad guy in Kill Bill, he’s near perfect. Daryl Hannah, too, can be charming and captivating in the right environment. Neither quite fit into the non-specific, early 1900s, rough and tumble Shanghai world of SpikeTVs new miniseries, airing in two parts on Sunday, August 17th and Monday, August 18th as the latest installment in their “Spike Guy Movies.”
Already broadcast in the UK in February the show was nominated for two Leo awards for editing and the soundtrack. Unfortunately, many may feel those are the only redeeming qualities in the entire project. The story, which is rather obviously two movies thinly disguised as a miniseries with the second night a barely plausible sequel to the first, is almost mediocre and more than a little ridiculous. The bland dialogue is peppered with pithy zen-like quotes spoken almost entirely by Carradine, of course, and tend to make the story more pitiful and tedious rather than enlightening.
The first movie centers around White Crane (Carradine) who, after witnessing the destruction of the Wudang temple where he was rescued as a troubled orphan with a violent past, goes on a quest to avenge the death of his grandmaster, even though as she lay dying he promised her he wouldn’t. Badly wounded, Crane is rescued by Lang Han (Osric Chau), Crane’s protege and the only other survivor from the massacre committed by the minions of the local crime lord, Khan Xin (Lim Kay Tong), for some vague reason that never really gets explained. After his convalescence, in a small village enslaved by Khan to grow nothing but opium, Crane makes his way to Shanghai and into a smoky night club owned by wannabe tough guy Bingo (Jimmy Taenaka).
Crane uses his unbeatable Kung Fu to save Jane Marshall (Daryl Hannah), Bingo’s girlfriend and star act, who is in Shanghai to look for her missing brother. Bingo challenges Crane to fight in a gambling bout, which he hosts in the same night club, and Crane comes face to face with Kahn’s Mongol henchman. The same man who lead Kahn’s army during the destruction of the Wudang temple. Crane crushes his skull, with a powerful qi focusing technique demonstrated at the beginning of the movie, which of course impresses the power obsessed Khan who offers Crane a job.
The second movie brings back all of the heroic characters from the first film, which is a little confusing due to the fact that at the end of the first movie Daryl Hannah’s character leaves for Los Angeles. Crane has returned to the destroyed Wudang temple to rebuild and train a new batch of monks. Bingo has decided to propose to Jane. Suddenly one of the women at Bingo’s club goes completely postal and, after dispatching Bingo’s favorite bodyguard and Bingo himself, kidnaps Jane and one of the dancers for her boss. Enter Bai (Yu Beng Lim) who was Crane’s sworn brother and a fellow monk in training at the temple. When he was a child Bai, in a fit of violent rage, brutally beat one of the other monks and fought with Crane in front of Grandmaster Myling (Pei-Pei Cheng) getting him expelled and thrown out into the mean streets. Bai also kidnaps Wei (Rosalind Pho), Lang Han’s love interest. Bai dramatically declares to Crane that in order to save them he must make a journey reminiscent of Homer’s Iliad through four gates leading to hell. So, Bingo, Han and Crane set off, with one of Bai’s captured henchmen guiding them, to save their women and take revenge on Bai.
For those old enough to fondly remember the Kung Fu television series, this movie may simply be an outright insult. Absent from Carradine’s character is the endearing, unblemished and incorruptible innocence he displayed when he played Kwai Chang Caine. It’s also just a little too coincidental that the title of this miniseries has Kung Fu in it. So are the fact that Crane sounds like Caine, Crane is a fighting monk with dragons burned into his forearms and it’s set in a unique period of history, rather than modern day.
One of the most frustating aspects of this movie is that absolutely none of the characters remain consistent. For example, Bingo fights like a boxer one minute, clubbing around like a drunken sailor in a bar fight, and then roundhouse kicking some serious butt the next. Lang Han displays remorse over killing an insane old woman in one scene and then proceeds to drop half a village of diseased peasants. The writers and their characters never seem to play by the rules they themselves have created.
If you do enjoy a good evisceration, some well choreographed fight scenes (as long as they don’t have wire fighting in them… those were just awful) and some breathtakingly beautiful scenery (the film was shot on location in China) then you’ll be satisfied with this movie. After all, it’s being billed as a “guy” movie. However, once the rather boring plot gets rolling you may find that the only things truly unpredictable are the characters themselves. Between the awkward and unconvincing chemistry between Hannah and Taenaka and Carradine’s cumbersome recitation of the Tao Te Ching this miniseries suffers considerably. Unfortunately, the audience ends up suffering right along with it.
Philip Spink (director) / Jacqueline Feather, John Mandel, David Seidler (screenplay)
CAST: David Carradine … Crane
Daryl Hannah … Jane
Kay Tong Lim … Khan
Yu Beng Lim … Bai
Osric Chau … Lang Han
Pei-pei Cheng … Myling
James Taenaka … Bingo