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Kung Fu Killer: killer action scenes overshadow lifeless writing

When is it okay to sacrifice plot-lines and themes in order to make a product that boils down to a few angry middle-aged men kicking the ever loving crap out of each other? When is it okay to have cardboard cutouts walk around the movie and try to convince the audience to get invested in their struggles? When is it okay to have a script that makes it seem as though its writers have only ever seen the word “writing” in a dictionary and had never actually applied it in practice? It is okay when this exists in order to facilitate extremely well-choreographed action scenes. It is okay when it exists to establish a method of useful visual storytelling. It is okay when it’s “Kung Fu Killer.”

“Kung Fu Killer,” which is also known “Kung Fu Jungle” and “Last of the Best,” is an example of everything that can go wrong, as well as everything that can go right with a typical Hong Kong action film. The film is directed by Teddie Chan, a veteran director, actor and producer of the genre.

Chan’s direction is the standard by which all other directors should be measured. He is able to turn some incredibly low-tier writing into a fascinating display of visual focus and cinematography in order to develop a story.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a good cast as well. Donnie Yen makes us feel for Hahou Mo, a man convicted of murder, while Charlie Young plays Inspector Luk, a badass action woman. Michelle Bai is also a pleasure to watch as Sinn Ying, Mo’s love interest. The MVP among the cast is without a doubt Wang Baoqiang as the villainous Fung Yu-sau, a Kung fu master who uses a disability in order to best a series of Kung fu masters.

Unfortunately, having a great cast doesn’t matter when they’re all handicapped beneath a laughable, implausible script and a “mystery” element that does little to add to the story or the world the filmmakers were trying to build. The character’s choices make little sense, with a big-deal being made of Mo’s guilt over the man he killed while having him start unnecessary fights in his prison community room, as he tries to solve the vast majority of his problems by fighting. The audience is only shown his reluctance to kill in the very end.

The attempt of the filmmakers to try and humanize Yu-sau by giving him a dying wife and a disability also falls short. This could have been a good way to add another dimension to the villain, but at certain point in the film, he also neglects his wife in order to practice martial arts. This could have been an attempt to show some sort of duplicity or divide between Yu-sau’s needs, but not enough time is devoted to develop anything of this sort fully. This leaves Yu-sau a cipher, and the audience can’t relate to a character whose actions make no sense, or to a character whose motivations are unclear.

The reason everyone needs to see “Kung Fu Killer” is for the action scenes which are stellar–perhaps even more than stellar. Teddie Chan’s excellent cinematography, direction and action choreography mix together to make a perfect storm–a beautiful Swan Lake of violence. This is an example of action scenes as art, and the final one ranks among the best in any action film. It is every bit the equal of Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris’ fight at the end of “Way of the Dragon,” the final chase scene from “Mad Max: Fury Road” and Hans Gruber’s death at the end of “Die Hard.”

If you can stomach some bad writing, then see “Kung Fu Killer” as soon as you can.