Raise your hand if there is a movie that most people find dumb, but you cannot help enjoying. If you did not raise your hand (other than the fact that you are reading this alone and I have no way of knowing whether or not you did so), then I might question your honesty. Or at least I would want to do so because I do not want to be alone in my crazy, sometimes. For me, one of those films is Kung Pow! Enter the Fist (2002). If you have not seen it, and I could not blame you if this is the case, then I am not sure how else to describe it to you other than by using my tried-and-true formula for The Legionnaire. Hopefully, by the end of this review, you will not think me a lunatic for loving it as I do.
The first thing that needs to be understood about Kung Pow! Enter the Fist is that it is two movies made into one. It briefly explains how this works before the action commences. The brains (if I may be so bold) behind the entire operation is Steve Oedekerk, who wrote, produced, and directed the film. He took a Chinese martial arts film from 1976 called Tiger & Crane Fists, and overlaid his own version of it. Hence, the opening where a baby version of the Chosen One (Steve Oedekerk) was not originally part of the movie. It is there to explain the backstory of the hero and the villain. The villain is Master Pain. In Oedekerk’s shots, he is played by Leo Lee, and in the original it is Fei Lung. This makes more sense if you watch the movie. . . . Anyway, Master Pain comes to kill the Chosen One as an infant because it is prophesied that he will bring about the downfall of the Evil Council, which Master Pain fronts. His plan does not work as intended when the baby springs out of its crib, beats him up, and manages to make it out of the hut before it burns to the ground. Because the Chosen One’s parents died in the attack, he grows up vowing to get vengeance on Master Pain. We are then treated to a montage of his prodigious (one might say over-the-top ridiculous) martial arts skill until he travels to the school of Master Tang (Hui Lou Chen) seeking assistance in finding Master Pain. At first, he is hesitant until the Chosen One reveals the mark that makes him out to be the long-awaited savior: the fact that he has a face on his tongue that he calls Tonguey (voiced by Steve Oedekerk). Also lending help, of sorts, is Ling (Ling Ling Tse), and a romance develops between them. When the Chosen One finally encounters Master Pain, who is now hilariously going by the sobriquet Betty, he is demonstrating his skill of being able to resist any blow as if he were made of rock. When the Chosen One attempts to discover whether or not he has this power, it results in a beating that leaves him unconscious. So, that would be a no. . . . While under, he dreams of a one-breasted woman understandably named Whoa (Jennifer Tung), who tells him that he can defeat Betty, but that it will take time. The Chosen One, though, is eager to fight Betty, and must triumph over Betty’s protector cow to do so. You read that correctly. When he finally gets to Betty, he, along with Ling’s father (Chi Ma), are easily beaten by Betty and his chains with claws on the ends. Feeling discouraged, the Chosen One gets some heavenly advice from a glowing figure of a lion in the sky going by Mu Shu Fasa (which is billed as a separate character). Mu Shu Fasa, clearly meant to refer to Mufasa (voiced by James Earl Jones) in The Lion King (1994), tells the Chosen One to continue his training. With some further advice from Ling, the Chosen One figures out that two metal, pyramid like structures protruding from Betty’s chest are the source of the villain’s invulnerability. If the Chosen One can remove them, he should be able to win. Hence, he spends a while practicing how best to get at them. His quest, though, is given a boost in urgency when Betty seemingly kills Master Tang and Ling, all while he had been trapped by a tiny net. When he is able to break free, he rushes to find them still alive, but in bad shape. With a new sense of motivation, he goes on to face Betty. The fight goes poorly at first, particularly when the Evil Council appears. Remember those pyramids on Betty’s chest? They are also the shape of the spaceships flown by the French aliens behind the Evil Council. This is when Tonguey does his, er, magic, leaping in a long line, like a measuring tape being unfurled, to drive away the Evil Council. Re-energized, the Chosen One springs back up and dispatches Betty. This is followed by a set-up for another movie, which unfortunately never came, and contains some more chuckle-worthy material.
Are you confused yet by Kung Pow! Enter the Fist? I would not blame you. Like so much in life, you have to see it in order to fully understand it, but even then you might not get anywhere. What makes it work as a comedy, though, is how Oedekerk blends the modern and the old. Tiger & Crane Fists has a main character called Sing Chen (Jimmy Wang Yu), who Oedekerk put himself in the position of by filming himself and laying his image over it. This works much more seamlessly than my clunky description can do justice. Oedekerk also dubbed all the voices, even in the versions he filmed to make his take on the plot, the only exception being Whoa. Still, she dubbed her voice as well. The movie is in English, by the way, and one of the running gags is Oedekerk spoofing the poor dubbing. I have seen behind-the-scenes footage where the actors are saying their lines, which is a bunch of nonsense. Of course, the lines in the actual movie we see are not much better, but the point is that they do not match, and it is funny. So there. I understand that this all may sound, well, stupid. Yet, there is a degree of artistry involved in this process that, even if you hate the film, should be appreciated.
There is one thing about Kung Pow! Enter the Fist that irks this Catholic reviewer, and that is the title “the Chosen One.” It is an over-used concept, though I am sure one that was done intentionally as yet another spoof. Nonetheless, my Catholic brain cannot help but go to Jesus when I hear about prophecies and some kind of wunderkind that will save the world. Take away the martial arts and face on the tongue, and you have a fair description of Our Lord. I know it is silly to make such comparisons. What I am mainly addressing is the over-usage, and in this sense the film is guilty, along with a whole host of others. The number of examples out there of this theme dilutes how Our Lord is perceived, making his real act seem less special in the face of all the fictional ones. Luckily, since this film does not take itself seriously, I can laugh at it and not be annoyed. I cannot say the same for the others.
Ultimately, I think everyone should see Kung Pow! Enter the Fist. Yes, there is some mild sexuality, but nothing vulgar. The humor is also juvenile in parts, which perhaps says more about me than anything else. Yet, this can work for a family movie night to a certain degree because kids will chuckle, for example, when the Chosen One uses gophers as the ends of nunchakus. I laugh too, kids.