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Kung Fu Killer
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by Jay Seaver

"Killer action, at least."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2015 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Kung Fu Killer" is what it sounds like and aggressively so, a cross between classic martial arts films where an evil master cuts a bloody path through his rivals and 1980s kung-fu cop flicks. The way director Teddy Chan combines these two does not exactly create something more refined - to torture a food metaphor a bit, it's got all the cheese from both recipes - but it does yield some damn fine fights, so the film can't be accused of not delivering.

In a period-set film, a master like Hahou Mo (Donnie Yen) might have become a monk when his dueling left another fighter dead; here he just turns himself in to the police and is sentenced to five years for something like negligent homicide. Before his sentence is up, though, he demands to speak to Chief Inspector Luk Yuen-sum (Charlie Yeung Choi-nei), who is investigating a man who was brutally beaten to death. Hahou says the victim was a martial arts master, and others will be targeted, although if he is released, he can help find the killer. This serial killer of kung fu masters is soon identified as Fung Yu-sau (Wang Baoqiang), and while Hahou appears to be his ultimate target, something about the way Hahou engineered his release from jail doesn't sit right with Yuen-sum.

Because of course it doesn't. The trouble with that as a plot device, unfortunately, is that this is the sort of cop movie where where the villain's plan being diabolical and the police/writers not really making a lot of sense in how they go about dealing with it. Do they just not have ankle bracelets in Hong Kong, for example, and why such a delay in warning the martial artists Hahou thinks will be targeted (and only doing so in sequence)? Thorough surveillance becomes pourous pretty quickly as well.

Of course, good policework would cut down on the exciting fights, from Hahou deciding that the best way to get his wardens to pay attention is starting a brawl with seventeen other prisoners all the way to the finish. Star Donnie Yen directs the action along with Yuen Bun and Yan Hua, and they know what they're doing, mixing heavy impacts with close-up grappling that will make the audience wince just as much. The story is built around a progression between various fighting styles, making for a lot of variety, including a very cool swordfight between Wang Baoqiang and Louis Fan Siu-wong. Yen does save the best for himself, and the finale - an absolutely crazy showdown in the middle of a busy freeway that only gets better when Hahou and Fung both get their hands on some twelve-foot lengths of bamboo - is an absolutely fantastic martial-arts showpiece with nothing left to hold back and a feeling of inventiveness despite kind of being an empty arena.

It's also the point where Yen seems to loosen up the most as an actor; though he's quite capable in that regard, the script and direction don't really give him a chance to build a character between their devotion to action and keeping things in reserve for potential twists. As such, he doesn't get to cut loose nearly as much as Wang Baoqiang, whose character is an unrepentant homicidal maniac and has been given a limp for good measure. He seems to chew scenery just standing there, and seems just as crazed in the middle of the fights (where he acquits himself quite well despite not really being known for his action chops). He's a constant jolt of energy in a somewhat dry main cast.

Teddy Chan and company are making a tribute to this sort of movie and have littered the cast with cameos, as the credits will point out, and it might have been nice if they raised the game a bit in ways beyond the fight choreography. There is some pretty obvious digital work at a couple points, and the script will occasionally seem to just overlook things in addition to being dumb - I'm still not entirely sure whether Michelle Bai Bing's character of Sinn Ying is meant to be Hahou's girlfriend or sister; maybe it's clearer if you understand Cantonese. There does seem to be an attempt to match the scrappiness of the 1980s flicks it pays tribute to, making it a bit less slick than the typical Yen action movie.

As a tribute, at least, there's never any doubt that Chan and company love the material and want to present the best where the action is concerned. It certainly clicks a lot better during those scenes, and even if the material around them can be bland or silly, the action certainly makes it worth a watch.

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originally posted: 07/16/15 23:43:09
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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  DVD: 28-Jul-2015



Directed by
  Teddy Chan

Written by
  Tin Shu Mak

  Donnie Yen
  Charlie Yeung
  Baoqiang Wang
  Bing Bai
  Deep Ng
  Alex Fong

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