Film: Kung Pow: Enter the Fist :-\
As far as laughter goes, this one is average film parody, not unfunny like “Spy hard” or “Scary movie”, but not in range of “Top secret” or “Blazing saddles” either. Well, all parodies are essentially hit and miss, ever since “Airplane”, the system is to cramp jokes, as many as you can think of in as little space as possible, and hope that some of them will work. In worst cases, all jokes are a miss and even those that have some potential are corrupted by bad timing. In best cases, you’ll laugh out loud every once in a while, smile a lot, and there will be jokes to which you’ll just shrug but they won’t hurt because your attention is on those that do work. Peculiar thing with “Kung Pow” is, yes, it’s a mixed bag, but it’s not very well shaken. That means, there are hilarious sequences and then there are long, uncomfortable passages of no laughter – such to which you ask yourself “He really thought he was funny?”
“Kung Pow” is advertised as a one-man work but it’s more of a one-man-and-a-dozen-of-CG-designers. One man is Steve Oedekerk; He got the idea, he wrote, he acted the only newly added character that is relevant, he directed and dubbed all other characters except one. I suspect he was the person beating the doorsteps too, and I always respect the kind of patience that makes you go and film that cheap film. The trick here is, most of material is taken from an older martial arts film, and Oedekerk added himself in old scenes, shot some new ones and added plenty of cool tricks wherever he could.
This is a film about film. So is any parody, though: “Airplane” is not a film about bunch of people trapped in an airplane, it’s a film about films in which people are trapped in airplanes and is explores paradoxes, unintentional comedy and plot holes of such films. Nor is “Loaded weapon” a film about two unlikely cop partners: you can’t care less about the plot, you’ve seen it a dozen times anyway; What you care about while watching “Loaded weapon” is simply which film/scene are they currently spoofing, and how are they going to twist that scene to squeeze a comedy out of it.
But “Kung pow” goes a bit further: it’s a film about film language. Not very ambitious one, but it does explore the ways film language is able to trick you, and makes you laugh by giving away the trick. It’s also an often subject of parody but never a consistent theme. In Mel Brook’s “High anxiety”, we’re watching the diner taking place in the room from outside, and in manner of Hitchcock, camera is menacingly closing to the room with people, until it finally breaks the glass on the door. Brooks used a now standard piece of film language, built a film illusion and then broke it down by reminding us that in order to have a shot of the room outside the house, there has to be a person outside the house, looking inside. Preferably with the camera. And we rarely think of that when we see such shot, we are used to taking it for granted. That’s the kind of thing “Kung Pow” does whole through.
There is another film I’m necessary reminded of: Carl Rainer’s “Dead man don’t wear plaid”, noir comedy that had Steve Martin as the resident detective. Like “Kung Pow”, “Dead man...” used a few of actors and a lot of archive material. Through cross-cutting, Martin was allowed to play side by side with Humphrey Bogart, Vivien Leigh, Carry Grant, James Cagney and a bunch of others I didn’t remember – all in their best years, by reusing old film shots. There had to be double skill working: first, adapting them all into a coherent detective story; Second, writing dialogues in such way that Martin’s replies would correspond to words from old clips, usually turning the originally dead-serious scene into something surreally funny (“Do you smoke?” “No, I have tuberculosis.” “Thank god!”). However, film took this idea half-way, which is respectable but not as much as it could be. There is no real sense of interaction between Martin and characters, Martin seems winded up to shoot replies when needed (no matter how cleverly written they were) and all characters are mostly one (up to two) scene characters, people Martin’s character meets during the investigation, clues. It was easier to have Carrey Grant in one scene and get it over with than to make him an important character and thread him through entire film. Oh, but how intriguing it would be if they did it, and even if they combined scenes of the same actor from various films, in order to find the ones that fit the most. I’d admire to a person who pulls a stunt like that forever. This way, well, the film was meh at the first watching, quite funnier next time I saw it because I was caught up in figuring out old from new and because I got a lot of laugh out of how old, dead serious dialogues were turned upside down.
To add to the record, “Kung Pow” is not even the first re-dubbing of Asian film. Woody Allen’s sometimes amusing sometimes confusing debut “What’s up, Tiger Lily” was re-dubbing of the Hong Kong spy film, a James Bond rip-off, that was taken in whole with a very few additions and re-dubbed with some funny plot about a super secret salad recipe – that, unfortunately, grows uninteresting at the half of the film. But I don’t doubt that Allen had a lotta fun while making it.
Now, “Dead men...” didn’t use special effects, it did all combination of new and old material through cross-cutting, and it must’ve been a pain to match the set in a way to make it seem like Martin is indeed in the same room as old characters; Occasionally he required matching clothes as the character opposing the used one in the original film too. “Kung pow” is not that subtle, it uses CG to drop Oedekerk right in the middle of the old material, mostly replacing him with the main character of the original film. To go along with the low-budget spirit of the film, CG-ing is often very shabby, and we can see that Oedekerk didn’t belong to the scene at first. Still, one must be startled by how time passes: a low-budget film is nowadays using the same, technology that granted “Forest Gump” an Oscar for special effects around ten years ago, back when Tom Hanks shook hands with Kennedy.
So I was disappointed, I am not such fan of special effects, specially computer effects because they lack texture and randomness of real-life effects. I would’ve loved this film if the same result was achieved through cross-cutting and film trickery, clothes, haircuts and sets resembling the ones from original film, and perhaps a few uncanny similar doubles of original actors. If he managed to achieve this film, I think it would redeem any gross-out humor or unfunny jokes that Oedekerk could come up with. But that would be hellofa tough task.
Now, plot is not the least different from any martial arts exploitation made it
The film is consistently at it’s worse when it relies on CGI too much. These scenes that feature only Oedekerk, talking alone in the blue room, like when he talks to the ghost of “Lion King’s” Simba’s father, are mostly pointless with a few amusing jokes that could’ve easily be scrapped for something better. The scene of fighting with cow, though, has some redeeming values, and some will probably find it hilarious. There is inexplicably stupid scene with a prophet woman who has one giant breast in the middle of her chest and the degree of disturbing is raised by the fact that film does what it can to make her look sexy. We are supposed to laugh because the woman has one breast, but I can’t imagine a person who will laugh at this. The only thing worth seeing there is the face of The Chosen One as he is distracted from the important conversation by a sight of the mono-boob.
On the other hand, film is strong in places where it creates film illusion and then breaks in apart intentionally. Being re-dubbed eastern film parody, a lot of jokes revolve around bad dubbing. The tone is set early, where Wimp Lo asks a colleague “Who is he?” to which the colleague opens and closes mouth for some time, the dub saying only “I don’t know” (inevitable resemblance with Mel Brook’s gag in “Silent movie” where he flaps his arms in passionate argument but the title card says only “Maybe you’re right.”). Similar trick is used in scene where The Chosen One’s face in close-up shows expression rage while the calmed voice proclaims “I employ you to reconsider”. The joke goes further if we realize that this whole spoken sentence is lifted from another scene, where The Chosen One, indeed, says it in a calmly matter.
Oedekerk uses repetition very often, in fact. On many occasions, he reuses a shot and, unused to that, we spot it only upon the more careful look. In a scene where he simultaneously finds dying Master Tang, Ling and his dog in the wood, many shots are reused, including the one of him finding the dying person, and even more notable, the complex shot of him crying over the dead. Reusing these shots thrice or more, a feeling of deja vu is created and we are convinced that it is due to repetitive script, until we realize that the whole scenes are repeating, with slightly different text. And there is something sexy in this deja vu feeling, actually.
By reusing shots Oedekerk is able to stretch the conversation between Master Betty and Master Tang as much as the script asks, always reusing same three shots. That is telling of how the slight change (here, different words they speak) makes repetition unnoticeable. In other instance, where he reuses a shot of Master Tang three times, Oedekerk chooses a peculiar shot where Master swings his hand through the air, so it’s hard not to notice repetition. Here, Oedekerk breaks illusion, in order to show that there is illusion, but mostly to get a laugh or two out of people when they spot it.
Another character consistently added through blue rook technology is Master Betty’s minion who plays rap music on his recorder every time Betty engages in a fight, because it seems like music helps Betty to win. It is rather surprising how much, on the first use of this gag, corny old MC Hammer’s “Can’t touch this” exactly matches the tempo of the fight that ensues. This gag runs a few times more, until Oedekerk decides to pull a trick on his own player: in one instance, he dubs the rap song over with some mellow power-pop ballade. Unaware of this, the actor dances as he would to a rhythmic rap song. The results... heh.
Even though perhaps anyone will find a laugh or two in this mixed bag of jokes, this film is recommendable only to fans of, well, stupid humor. There is one point where stupidity exceeds and becomes simply so irrational that it’s a matter for laughing. Therefore, some people laugh to stupid jokes – not to bad jokes, or to failed jokes, but to those really stupid ones. Well, I am one of those people and that’s the reason why good part of this film was a laugh for me. In it, Wimp Lo will have lines like: “Knock knock! Who’s there? Your butt that is about to be kicked!”, while the chosen one contemplates the fighting strategies: “I could always pretend that I was a bird. But that would just look stupid and leave my small sensitive balls exposed!” But that’s all topped by The Chosen One’s inspired monologue: “Killing is bad! And Wrong! There should be a new, stronger word for killing, like “badwrong”... Or “badong”! Yes! Killing is badong! From this day on, I will stand to the oposite of killing: Gnodab!” If you laugh at this, I guess there’s a good reason for seeing “Kung Pow”. If only for better scenes and for cheerful ripping apart of cinematic rules.
Oedekerk is (the press kit says) preparing the sequel by intensively watching old