J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Kung Fu Killer: Martial Arts is for Killing

Hahou Mo is no Hannibal Lecter, but this will still be a case where a killer is recruited to catch a killer. In his thirst to become the number one martial artist, Hahou Mo won a fateful match, but lost his honor and his liberty. Although he dearly regrets losing control, another martial artist is deliberately following his fatal example. The mystery man is seeking out all the masters Hahou Mo beat, but his challenges necessarily end in death. Teddy Chan marries together the martial arts and serial killer genres in Kung Fu Killer (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Even though he was once a police instructor, nobody in Stanley Prison messes with Hahou Mo, for obvious reasons. However, when he hears of the first victim and the circumstances surrounding his murder, Hahou Mo has to do something dramatic to attract the attention of Detective Inspector Luk Yuen-sum, unfortunately for seventeen of his fellow inmates. At first, she wants nothing to do with him, but he is soon remanded into her custody when one of the names he gives her turns out to be the next victim.

The newly freed Hahou Mo quickly deduces the pathological Fung Yu-sau is working his way through the masters of each respective discipline: boxing, kicking, grappling, qi, weapons, and inner energy. As the former head of the Mergence school of Kung Fu, his name is all over the latter. To raise the stakes even further, his former school is now overseen by Sinn Ying, the love of his life.

You don’t need to read a book on screenwriting to guess Hahou Mo and Fung Yu-sau will go toe-to-toe in the third act. Even though the highway setting is somewhat reminiscent of scenes in Iceman, the climatic duel lives up to expectations and then some. Donnie Yen’s fight choreography is bruising yet quite cinematic. Fans only complaint might be some of the earlier duels end too soon, but at least Louis Fan gets his money’s worth as Weapons Champ Hung Yip.

As Hahou Mo, Yen once again demonstrates why he is one of the biggest stars in the world. His skills are as sharp as ever and he remains a likable, charismatic screen presence. He has okay chemistry with Michelle Bai’s Sinn Yang, who also displays some strong martial arts chops. Indeed, she acquits herself quite well in her action feature spot, but again, it is too bad this did not become an extended centerpiece scene, like Jing Tian’s spectacular face-off with Andy On in Special ID. Typically known for comedic roles and psychopaths, Wang Baoqiang finds unexpected pathos in Fung Yu-sau, playing him as both a sinister and tragic figure, almost like a Phantom of the Opera.

Due to Chinese censorship, Chan’s film was known as Kung Fu Jungle in Mainland theaters, which seems pretty ridiculous, but at least some apparatchik was able to exercise his power. Needless to say, Kung Fu Killer is more accurately descriptive. Yen delivers the goods and scores of figures associated with old school HK action films get to feel the love in smaller supporting roles. Darker than many of Yen’s films, but still all kinds of fun, Kung Fu Killer is highly recommended for martial arts fans when it opens this Friday (4/24) in New York, at the AMC Empire.

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