Yat ku chan dik mou lam (Kung Fu Jungle) Review

Posted: October 15, 2014 in 2014 London Film Festival, Action, Foreign, Reviews, Thriller
Tags: , , , , , ,

Kung-Fu-Jungle-Still-3Immediately after the conclusion of Kung Fu Jungle and just prior to the rolling of the credits, a dedication to all those who have worked in front of and behind the cameras to make Hong Kong action cinema the uniquely entertaining genre it has become is shown on the screen. Brief clips of these pioneers are presented with identifying graphics. Many have cameo appearances in the film; some have passed away. Director Teddy Chan explained in a Q&A session after the world premiere of Kung Fu Jungle at the London Film Festival that he wished to pay tribute to the unsung heroes of the industry, many of whom began in the business before green screens and CGI, when the stunts were real and dangerous.

The good news is that Chan was entirely successful in fashioning an appropriate homage, not only in the concluding montage, but also in the terrifically fun movie that precedes it. Kung Fu Jungle is a worthy entry in the history of Hong Kong action flicks, with a solid reliance on the fist and the foot over the bullet and the gun. The film has a nifty premise, a terrific cast, and great fight scenes. And it also boasts Donnie Yen, one of the world’s great action stars. In addition to playing the lead, Yen choreographed and directed three of the fight sequences. The colloboration between Chan and Yen is seamless as these sequences are perfectly shot and flow naturally within the body of the greater film.

Yen plays Hahou Mo, the head of a martial arts school who killed a man in a duel meant to establish the primacy of his martial arts style and is now in prison for his crime. From a jailhouse television, he learns of the brutal killing of a skilled martial artist and realizes he knows the identity of the murderer. His offer to help the police is initally rebuffed by the lead inspector (an excellent Charlie Yeung), but the Madam Detective takes him up on his offer after he correctly predicts the identity of the next victim and indicates the order in which subsequent targets will be selected. Mo realizes that a serial killer is picking off martial arts masters, eliminating each by defeating him in his area of expertise. The killer is Feng, expertly played with a murderous intensity by Wang Bioqiang, who circles Mo, drawing him into a game of cat-and-mouse.

The pacing in the early going is excellent, but the film slows slightly toward the end as it ticks off the predictable plot points: Mo falls under the suspicions of the police as being an accomplice of Feng, the lead detectives are removed from the case, Mo’s love interest (Michelle Bai) is threatened. The final fight between Mo and Feng is also something of a letdown. Not only is it not the best action sequence of the movie, it’s not even Donnie Yen’s best fight in the film. That would be the one at the beginning, when it’s him against 17 inmates inside the prison.

Still, Yen’s charisma and Bioqiang’s fierceness carry Kung Fu Jungle through even its weakest moments. There are not many twists and turns in this one – it’s as straight forward as a fist to the face and just about as effective.

Three and a half stars.

  1. Mirella McCracken says:

    Were you in London for the Premiere?

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