What happens when the martial arts genre gets brought into modernity with slick filmmaking, dramatic settings, and high-level choreograhy? You get “Kung Fu Killer”, starring Hong Kong’s biggest action star, Donnie Yen.
Not to be confused with “Kung Fu Killer” from 2008 starring David Carradine, this martial arts movie was originally titled “Kung Fu Jungle” (or sometimes the very confusing “Last of the Best”) and was released in Asian markets in 2014. Wellgo USA has brought the film to international shores, and renamed it “Kung Fu Killer”. Earlier this year, the film won the Hong Kong Film Award for Best Action Choreography, which marks the fourth time Donnie Yen has received this accolade.
Directed by Teddy Chan, this movie is a love letter to the old Kung Fu classics that we all know and love, and brings the past into modernity with contemporary themes, filmography, and fighting techniques. The story itself is something that you might find in a classic Shaw Brothers film – one crazy Kung Fu fighter wants to be the best, so he starts dueling with the best fighters to prove it. As he misuses his Kung Fu, someone needs to take him out, and that someone is Donnie Yen.
Yen plays Hahou Mo, a former police self-defense instructor who has been put in jail after killing another martial artist in a duel. A few years later, an unknown assailant (played by Wang Baoqiang) begins knocking off martial arts masters in dramatic fashion and leaving behind cryptic clues that Yen immediately recognizes. After coming to Inspector Luk (played by Charlie Young, who is actually a female so do not be confused by this name), she decides to free him on the condition that he brings this killer to justice. Of course, nothing goes as planned and things go awry pretty quickly as the hunt for this madman becomes personal.
The breakout star of this film is definitely Wang Baoqiang, who gets the majority of the action scenes in this movie. Because he is challenging masters of different styles, he gets highly varied action sequences for each fight, including sword fights, classic style sticky-hands fighting, pole fighting, kicking, and the crazy fight that happens at the end of the film where him and Yen fight on a busy Hong Kong highway. There are a ton of young up-and-coming martial arts stars in this movie who all get ample time to shine and show their skills, like Siu-Wong Fan and Kang Yu. Every fight is special, and that keeps the movie very interesting since you never know what to expect.
Donnie Yen – there is never anything bad you can say about the man. Yen is a master of his craft, and gets a good dramatic performance here along with some sick fights that will raise your blood pressure to dangerous levels. The spirit of martial arts and why a person practices them is core to the film, a subject that has been examined in many martial arts movies. With Yen in the lead, this movie takes the tired concept and makes it relevant again. Hardcore fans will catch plenty of cameos from their favorite classic martial artists, so pay attention!
I should add that I watched this movie with subtitles, and the subs are pretty good. I only caught one typo at around 44:48, where instead of reading “protege” it reads “protmgm”. Other than that, I did not feel like anything got too lost in translation, so good job on that.
“Kung Fu Killer” has four behind-the-scenes videos as part of the special features on the DVD, as well as the trailer for the film. “Fight to the top” is a general overview of the film as told by the cast & crew, discussing what it wants to accomplish and how they did it. “The Spirit of Kung Fu” examines the reasons why a person does martial arts, related back to the characters in the film and the motivations for their actions. This also goes into more of the production crews views and rationale for doing things the way they did on this film, which is a very interesting feature that gets you into the heads of the filmmakers. “The Final Duel” is an in-depth look at the final confrontation between the two leads and how this intense scene was crafted. Lastly, “Legendary Action Directors” is all about the prolific stars that helped bring this movie to life and transform it from the average martial arts movie into a fitting tribute of the entire genre.
I definitely recommend this film if you are new to the Kung Fu action genre or an old fan. There is a lot of love given to the classics here, and if you pay attention you will notice at least some of them. If you are a newer fan, you will love what you see even moreso, especially with all of the fresh faces showing off their moves. “Kung Fu Killer” is another instant classic from Donnie Yen and Teddy Chan, and there is no more fitting l0ve letter to the genre than this film.