Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 21 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Comic Violence, Crude and Sexual Humor
Directed by: Steve Oedekerk
Written by: Steve Oedekerk
Starring: Steve Oedekerk, Hui Lou Chen, Fei Lung, Ling Ling Tse & Lau Kar-Wing
If there was any specific decade that murdered the spoof movie, it was the 2000’s. There are a handful of good parodies that came out in this time period, but the genre mostly descended into an awful mess of references and fart jokes. At the very least, martial arts spoof KUNG POW! tried to do something different. Steve Oedekerk directed, wrote, starred and provided voiceover work for this strange project. Taking archival footage of 1976’s TIGER AND CRANE FIST and mixing it with blue screen effects, Oedekerk created a spoof that was initially panned by critics and has since built a cult following. When KUNG POW! works, it’s hilarious and a lot of fun. When it doesn’t, the film falls flat on its face and the jokes seem very forced. As a whole, the film is a mixed bag with a handful of big laughs.
Ever since his family was brutally murdered when he was baby, The Chosen One (Steve Oedekerk) has wandered from town to town on quest for revenge. Chosen One has found himself constantly hunted by various warriors over a strange sentient mark on his tongue, named Tonguey. It’s just as strange as it sounds. One arrives at the dojo of perverted Master Tang (Hui Lou Chen, voiced over by Oedekerk) and soon finds himself being trained in the ways of martial arts. He also falls head over heels for Tang’s hot student Ling (Ling Ling Tse, again voiced over by Oedekerk). Things take a turn when murderous kung-fu master Evil Betty (Fei Lung, voiced over by…you guessed it…Oedekerk) strolls into town. If he wishes to fulfill his destiny and inflict his long overdue revenge, The Chosen One must master his abilities and take Evil Betty head-on in a fight to the death.
KUNG POW! has good moments. A handful of its scenes are downright hilarious and evoke an old-school feeling of MONTY PYTHON silliness. There’s a baby gag early on that cracked me up when I was a teenager and still cracks me up today. The obvious dubbing and pieces of edited archive footage also provide lots of laughs. It’s especially funny when Oedekerk draws attention to editing inconsistencies through dialogue, e.g. having a character’s shirt randomly change color and one character address it through magic. There’s also a would-be dramatic moment that turns into something darkly perverse. There are undeniably funny moments in KUNG POW! that make the film worth watching for less-discerning comedy fans.
The technical side of things should be praised as well. Attention to detail and blue screen effects seamlessly blend the archive footage with fresh scenes shot specifically for the film. At points, it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. This being said, the cheap-looking computer animation (there’s quite a bit of it) doesn’t hold up well. A human vs. cow fight scene, besides being too dumb, sticks out like a cartoonish sore thumb. The same can be said for the film’s climax, which is over reliant on CGI and very stupid plot twists. Tonguey is also an annoying creation that evokes the same animation of Oedekerk’s mixed-bag THUMB short films.
While KUNG POW! definitely has funny moments, there’s almost an equal amount of jokes that fall flat or just seem like they’re trying too hard. I already mentioned the ending that mistakes weirdness for humor, but there are also lots of fart jokes and toilet humor that put a damper on legitimately good scenes. A sequence with a single-boobed mistress seems entirely pointless, though it does contain a couple of chuckles. One horribly animated scene (parodying THE LION KING for some reason) comes out of nowhere and is so damn unfunny that the film never fully recovers from it. Oedekerk’s over-the-top dubbed voices for all the characters can occasionally be grating, though Ling’s odd vocal tics are always funny. The film also showcases a fake trailer for a would-be sequel during the final minutes. These two minutes contain some of the movie’s bigger laughs, making you wonder why that sense of humor couldn’t have come through in the lame finale.
KUNG POW! has laughs, but it also has a lot of dead spots and lame moments. The fart jokes and toilet humor seem aimed at a junior high audience (I loved this film when I was a teenager), but the genuinely clever moments evoke huge laughs and a MONTY PYTHON attitude. This combination of good and bad make the film into a mixed bag. It’s not really something that I can recommend, because of all the obvious problems. However, I completely understand why and how this film has gained a cult following. As a whole, KUNG POW! certainly isn’t as horrible as many other spoofs to hit since the mid-2000’s, but it certainly could/should have been better.