In "Kung Pow: Enter the Fist", the martial arts genre finally gets the "Scary Movie" parody treatment. The brainchild of director Steve Oedekerk (whose credits include having written the screenplays for "Patch Adams" and "Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius", and directed "Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls" and the "Star Wars" spoof "Thumb Wars: The Phantom Cuticle"), "Kung Pow: Enter the Fist" skewers those badly dubbed Chinese 'chop-socky' films that became the staple of junk food cinema during the Seventies. Unfortunately, like "Scary Movie" and other lame parodies of late, it doesn't work.
The most interesting aspect of "Kung Pow: Enter the Fist" is how Oedekerk has combined bits and pieces of 1977's "Savage Killers (Shao Lin hu ho chen tien hsia)" with some newly shot footage. Though it is fairly obvious to tell the difference between the old and new footage, Oedekerk is able to place seamlessly place himself and other new visual elements (such as a guy with a boombox in the background, or a 'Hooters' sign) into the old grainy footage of "Savage Killers" courtesy of digital technology. Thus, "Kung Pow: Enter the Fist" is a very heavy effects-shot film, outnumbered only by "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace". What is also impressive is that Oedekerk was able to find relatively inexpensive means to achieve these shots, such as by using a $99 graphics program downloaded from a web site for digital hair effects.
Story-wise, Oedekerk plays Chosen One, whose parents were killed by the evil Master Pain (played by Taiwanese veteran Fei Lung in "Savage Killers" and dubbed by Oedekerk, who pretty well does all the voices in the film). Raised by rodents, Chosen One sets out on a cross-country trek (à la the cheesy television series "Kung Fu") to exact his revenge on his parents' murderer, who has now inexplicably decided to change his name to 'Betty'. Along the way, he receives help from a single-breasted woman (Jennifer Tung of "Star Trek: Insurrection"), fights plenty of generic bad guys, receives the necessary training to defeat Betty, falls in love with a woman who sounds suspiciously like Miss Piggy, and learns about the power he wields in his 'Tonguey'.
As a spoof, Oedekerk gets a few things right. In addition to the prototypical 'you killed my (insert family member here) and now you must die!' plotting, Oedekerk has a keen understanding of the style of veteran Hong Kong director Chang Cheh, whose use of quick zooms, fast pans, and over-the-top sound effects became the blueprint for Chinese martial arts films and influenced a number of directors who would follow in his footsteps (including John Woo). In addition, the film does have a few genuine laugh-out-loud moments, such as Betty's penchant for playing rap music when pummeling his enemies and some outrageous dubbing (such as the so-stupid-that-it's-funny 'ventriloquists' gag).
Unfortunately, these mirthful moments do not come as often as you would like in the scattershot script. Most of the time, Oedekerk fills space with some unfunny gags (such as a riff on "The Lion King"), some shameless so-called-comic sequences that cross the line of good taste (such as a fight with a cow that includes a done-to-death spin on bullet-dodging from "The Matrix"), or some woefully lame (and highly-edited) fight sequences. This is especially noticeable after the first twenty minutes, when it is clear that Oedekerk is starting to run out of ideas. Perhaps if "Kung Pow: Enter the Fist" had been only half-an-hour long or a TV special, the humor would have been fast and furious-- at ninety minutes, it drags.
Apparently, "Kung Pow: Enter the Fist" is the first part of a planned trilogy. Unfortunately, outside of hardcore martial arts fans, it is difficult to see who would be willing to sit through three of them, let alone one. Though Oedekerk does have his occasional moment of brilliance with this digital amalgam, they are far outweighed by the abundance of lame 'filler' gags. For a better parody of martial arts films, it is better to wait until May of this year for the North American release of "Shaolin Soccer" (renamed "Kung-fu Soccer", I guess because it is assumed that Western audiences are too stupid to know what 'Shaolin' means), the 2001 box office smash from Hong Kong. Not only does "Shaolin Soccer" have a more intimate understanding of the conventions of the genre, but it also sports a superior laugh-to-groan quotient and is, surprisingly, actually fun to watch.