Cinematic Releases: Kung Fu Killer

Kung Fu Killer just got a domestic release. Check out our review!

"Here. Let me grab your pole."
If you look up “ass whooping” in the dictionary you will find a picture of Donnie Yen next to the entry.  He is most famous recently for his role in Ip Man, but has been in other great martial arts films such as Hero and Iron Monkey.  Kung Fu Killer is a return to form of sorts for Yen, but unfortunately it falls a little short both on a technical level and story-wise.

The story, about a serial killer that targets martial arts masters, is interesting on paper but fails to remain engaging and lacks emotional resonance. It’s choppy and things seem to happen for no rhyme or reason. The killer’s motivation is ludicrous and while they try to emulate the tension of other, better thriller movies, it never quite reaches that level. Some would say that the story doesn’t matter in these types of films, but The Raid 2 proved that you could have kick ass fights and a compelling plot simultaneously. The acting for the most part is satisfactory but the main antagonist, Fung (Baoqiang Wang) is so incredibly overacted that it borders on parody. Now, this is a given in a lot of Hong Kong productions in general, but it’s inconsistent with the more serious tone of the rest of the film.

I can hear the reader of this review scoffing and thinking “Well, I sure as hell don’t watch martial arts films for the story!  I come to see awesome fights!  How are the fights?!” Unfortunately, I was disappointed with most of the fight choreography in Kung Fu Killer. It’s odd because Donnie Yen directed the fight scenes in this film, so I was expecting much better. The camera is zoomed in too close and it relies too much on quick cuts and stylized speed-ramping. These guys can fight though, which makes this decision peculiar. Usually these types of techniques are used to cover up an actor’s lack of skill in martial arts, but all of these actors are famous fighters who don’t need that type of compensation. They aren’t terrible, by any means, and one in particular featuring Louis Fan (Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky) sword-fighting is expertly crafted and performed. There are a ton of cameos by iconic martial artists that fans of Hong Kong films will be pleased to discover.

"Dude. Stop grabbing my throat!"
Overall, the film is shot well and looks great. It has a modern and polished look that can sometimes be absent from martial arts movies. It’s apparent they had a large budget and they spend it lavishly on incredible set-pieces and chase scenes. Because it was so high-profile it may have suffered from too many cooks stirring the pot--it seems like there isn’t enough coherence between all the different elements of the film. It’s not a bad way to spend an hour-and-a-half though and it’s worth at least a rental to see some the action scenes. As always, Donnie Yen is fun to watch open a can of whoop ass, even if it is a store brand generic version.

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-Michelle Kisner