In 2001, on the heals of his successful Thumb shorts, Steve Oedekerk made an equal parts terrible and wonderful little movie called “Kung Pow: Enter the Fist”. When I first saw ads for it, I cringed and said “No thanks”. Then I caught Thumb Wars on UPN and reconsidered my interest when I found out it was same guy. The Thumb shorts, for those who don’t remember, were a series of half-hour parodies of popular past and present movies done entirely with a cast of thumbs with creepy faces. I’ve seen all but one, but the best examples were Thumb Wars and Thumbtanic.
The rest were… okay. You can watch Thumb Wars in it’s entirety here.
But getting back to it, I saw Kung Pow on video and absolutely loved it. Through the years, I keep coming back to it and love it every time, but I’ve always felt guilty afterwards. See, the movie walks this line of ridiculousness that you have to continuously roll with. It’s full of lame jokes and silly sight gags that on all accounts should not be funny. And yet I still laugh. I ask myself why every time. I’ve come to realize that it’s probably not the jokes themselves, but the execution. The timing of the jokes, and the caliber of silly voices Mr. Oedekerk employs (he does nearly every voiceover for every character) make the movie funny and re-watchable.
My other fascination with this movie is Steve and his crew took an old Chinese film print and restored it –no small task- specifically so they could tell silly jokes. The movie they restored and modified is a Chinese 1976 Kung Fu film called “Tiger and Crane Fist” (or alternately, Savage Killers). Steve and company tried to contact the original actors from the movie to see if they were interested in helping with production. The only guy who contacted them back was the one guy they were replacing with Steve Oedekerk – action star Jimmy Wang Yu. He went along for the ride as their consultant.
The movie, while unique, isn’t a totally original concept. Dubbing over old Kung Fu movies is a comedy staple, most famously used by Woody Allen in his film “What’s Up Tiger Lily?”, which consisted entirely of scenes from International Secret Police: A Barrel of Gunpowder and International Secret Police: Key of Keys, save for a few bumpers from Allen himself.
Even so, what’s great about Mr. Oedekerk’s foray into this genre is he takes it a step further, shooting completely new footage and putting it next to the old footage. Farther than that, Steve digitally replaces Jimmy Wang Yu in the old footage. To assist with blending the new and old, there are also painstaking reproductions of props and sets from “Tiger and Crane Fist” so they could seamlessly blend the footage. This process included degrading their newer film to meet the original print somewhere in the middle in picture quality.
So with all that detailed professional work behind it (which I deeply respect), and the fact that I enjoy it so much, why should I be ashamed to like it? To tell the truth, I can’t quite put my finger on it. But it’s enough to where I’m a little embarrassed to own it. Even within the scant few DVD menus I had to wade through to get to the comparison above (and the DVD is very comprehensive; more on that in a second), I found myself hanging my head in shame at the lame jokes flying every which way.
Actual sample joke from the movie (by the bad guy, who insists on being called “Betty”):
But even with random bits of shitty jokes(?) like that, it’s all part of a whole. And the whole is funny and worth watching and revisiting over and over. The enthusiasm for which the acting and overdubbing is done is way over-the-top, and you can tell fun is being had. This is best demonstrated by the fight scenes. The movie includes both old (and somewhat altered) fight sequences from Savage Killers, and newer ones with new characters that they shot themselves. To their credit, they blend pretty well. The pop culture references add an extra bit of fun, too.
Even with all that, the DVD bonus features alone are worth buying the movie. For one, there’s a hidden layer of dialogue underneath the feature. In order to achieve the proper over-dubbing effect, different lines are spoken by actors in the newer footage than what is written in the final script. The option to watch the entire movie with these insane hidden lines is one of seven audio options on the feature. There’s also the “Long Lost Book on Tape” version, in which a deadpan Englishman reads the entire movie’s lines out as if it were a book on tape. To get a taste of this, imagine that joke above being read by Jim Dale. …don’t tell me you didn’t chuckle a little. (Note: the “Book on Tape” version is not read by Jim Dale.)
There is a fake trailer for Kung Pow II at the end, but Steve freely admits that this won’t happen again for a very long time, if ever.
So if you haven’t seen this movie, go watch it; you might enjoy it. If you don’t enjoy it, I’m so, so sorry.
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