For nearly 40 straight minutes after the opening credits, I swear to you that no movie has ever made me laugh as hard, and as much, as Steve Oedekerk’s “Kung Pow: Enter the Fist”. “Kung Pow” is a film that splices writer/director/leading man Oedekerk (“Ace Ventura”) and other assorted modern characters into scenes from a 1976 movie called “Tiger and Crane Fist”, which was released back in the heyday of the Hong Kong chop socky kung fu boom.
Much derided and considered lowbrow trash by film critics at its release, “Kung Pow” is the type of film that requires not only an understanding of ’70s Hong Kong chop socky films in order to understand, but also a love of the genre is needed in order to appreciate. Internet movie critic James Berardinelli gave the film 1 out of 4 stars, and was “irritated” by the movie. (I don’t know if Roger Ebert ever reviewed it, because I couldn’t find a review on his website.) What this proves is that “Kung Pow” is in similar company with movies like “The Hours” and “Jan Dara”.
Yes, you read correctly. I did compare “Kung Pow” to “The Hours” and “Jan Dara”. Why? Because, simply put, “Kung Pow” was made for a select audience, and all others need not apply. There is greatness to “Kung Pow” for those willing to see it, but the general moviegoing audience will never regard the film as anything but a failed parody. And you know what? It doesn’t matter a bit, because I’ve never laughed harder and longer before in my life, and to me that’s a sign of the film’s success.
Steve Oedekerk plays the been-done-to-death character of “The Chosen One”, who was chosen by someone to do something important for some reason. Who cares? Using extensive clips and scenes from “Tiger and Crane Fist”, Oedekerk purposely fouls up the voice dubbing of the characters in order to achieve the bad dubbing Hong Kong films are so infamous for. Throughout most of the movie, Oedekerk supplies the voiceover dubbing for a lot of the characters, including the indecisive Ling, the villainous Master Pain (who changes his name to Betty!), and an assortment of other ridiculous characters, made even sillier by Oedekerk’s throwaway screenplay.
The funniest segments of “Kung Pow” are when Oedekerk is interacting with characters from selected scenes of “Tiger and Crane Fist”. The film stalls a bit when the movie interjects expensive CGI sequences outside the framework of the 1976 movie, such as a battle between the Chosen One and a CGI cow. Another sequence, toward the end and involving flying saucers and the French, shoots and misses badly. Generally speaking, whenever “Kung Pow” wanders away from the bad filmstock of “Tiger and Crane Fist” it stumbles. It’s a good thing then that it rarely wanders.
Of note is a running narration that gives us a rundown of the Chosen One’s life. I’m not sure who provides the voice (it sort of sounds like Cheech Marin), but there’s comedy gold there. In particular, one scene where the Chosen One punches a man through the gut and a slab of his gut falls out. (This was shown extensively in the trailers.) The narration goes nuts at this point, mentioning the slab and how it’s impossible that a slab could fall out of a guy’s gut. I was rolling on the floor laughing.
“Kung Pow” isn’t for everyone, just like “Big Trouble In Little China” and “Fight Club” weren’t for everyone. Although mainstream critics have nothing but disdain for “Kung Pow”, it’s interesting to note that movies engaging in even lower brow humor such as “American Pie” and “There’s Something About Mary” got extensively good reviews. What’s the difference between those movies and “Kung Pow”? Answer: They don’t require a knowledge, and appreciation, of Hong Kong chop socky ’70s cinema.
But Like I said: “Kung Pow” is for a selected audience, and everyone else need not apply.
Steve Oedekerk (director) / Steve Oedekerk (screenplay)
CAST: Steve Oedekerk …. Chosen One/Dubbed Voices
Fei Lung …. Master Pain (Betty)
Leo Lee …. Young Master Pain
Ling Ling Tse …. Ling
Lin Yan …. Dying Ling
Chia Yung Liu …. Wimp Lo