Asian martial arts cinema has always delivered excellent productions that must be appreciated and valued in the canon of cult cinema. And in this opportunity, it is convenient to consider in depth what goes into this story that at first impression seems to be entirely promising and willing to satisfy the most demanding martial arts film buff.
Kung Fu League had been announced with a lot of buzz surrounding it and had generated even before its premiere all sorts of anticipation and hype, and it is not to deny that the pedigree that had formed around this super production would move the most cynical of film critics.
Hong Kong and China joined forces and were willing to do an epic story with ample scope that promised to bring together martial arts greatest masters of both countries. (albeit in a fictitious form, and not with the typical actors portraying the legendary martial arts masters)
And how did the final product turn out? Did they promise what they accomplished? Read it below to find out.
As soon as the film starts, it is in your best interest as a viewer to lower your expectations to the minimum. It was inevitable to assume that with so many expectations, and hype the final product was not going to be entirely what was promised.
You’ll be shocked to learn that instead of an epic martial arts film the final product seems to be that during its development phase made a sharp turn of 180 degrees, and became a comedy that only has famous fictional martial arts masters. They didn’t deliver what they promised, but that’s not the only disappointing aspect of the finished product, is it even good? No, not at all.
One thing worth emphasizing is that surprisingly it is not only a comedy but also a romantic comedy. The focus on action has been noticeably minimized which will piss off of many fans of the martial arts genre.
If you set aside the lack of action, what the film proposes doesn’t seem to be a bad idea at all, it can result in a funny and entertaining movie to pass the time, in other words, it can be a quite subversive experience, such a pity they don’t use it correctly in their favor.
The story is as follows, in the present, an extremely introverted young man who works as a comic book artist dreams that four legendary martial arts masters will help him conquer the heart of the girl he likes, and it turns out that is also a fellow colleague.
The young man always tries to get the girl’s attention to confess his feelings but is unsuccessful as he is overshadowed by another competitor in the girl’s affections who turns out to be an extremely mean boss. And are you wondering how the legendary martial arts masters ended up in the present despite existing centuries before?
The answer to that question is not entirely unexplainable, but not exempted from being preposterous. It happens that one day when he is drunk he invokes the characters of the comic he was working on and they turn out to be the legendary martial arts masters to help him win a fighting championship, and thus allow him to earn a lot of money so he can attract the attention of the girl he is madly in love with. Who says romance isn’t dead?
Now everything will be in the hands of Wong Fei Hung, Huo Yuan Jia, Ip Man, and Chen Zhen so that the wimpy geek can conquer the girl and to find their way back to their respective times and locations.
That’s the entirety of the plot. There are some slight detours over the course of the movie, such as the one with delinquents that end up facing the martial arts masters, and start following and helping the masters around after losing to them.
The movie is childish, it has light humor easy to tolerate that can be to the liking of the whole family, perhaps you may smile or chuckle a little bit but not straight out laugh.
Some favorable criticisms that are worth highlighting are the following, the tributes to various classic martial arts movies were undoubtedly the most prominent, were very good recreations, for the presentation of the masters, honoring films such as Ip Man, The Grandmaster as well as others.
The movie’s also mercifully short, it’s not overbearingly long, thank god, but it can feel like a chore through the midpoint, the movie total runtime is 102 minutes.
The actors who portrayed the roles of the legendary martial arts masters did a solid piece of work as an ensemble, they all have the wits and the hilarity their parts called for, they have good chemistry between each other.
Let’s get straight to the negative criticisms: the script is abhorrently cringeworthy, the supposedly comical scenes fall flat, and there are several groan-inducing gags that are used over the course of the movie, relentlessly that it feels like beating a dead horse. (A Wong Fei Hung subplot centered around cheating is completely asinine)
What can be said about the dialogue? It’s absolutely terrible, the acting, for the most part, is astonishingly dull for certain key characters (cough the love interest cough) and there is so much overacting with the villains that it feels forced and not natural enough to warrant a laugh out of it.
There is some homophobia thrown in the mix, not cool, or funny, like at all. The fighting choreography is quite neat when is filmed properly and well suited for the scene, the final fight scene is a total disappointment and a total waste of the actors/characters abilities and prowess in martial arts.
Leung Siu Hung (the same fighting choreographer for Ip Man) is quite talented as a choreographer but his talents were to waste in this sad excuse of a martial arts movie, especially in that final fight scene.
The pacing is terrible, the direction is flat, and the camera work is not kinetic or engaging enough, the man in charge of the whole operation is the culprit, and that person is director Jeffrey Lau, he has experience as a producer and scriptwriter, but as a film director he clearly lacked the experience to helm this project.
The score is run of the mill, the tempo doesn’t fit in certain key scenes and failing too hard to accentuate a light mood or a funny scene, the line work and special effects are wonky and barely passable, it’s laughable like you wouldn’t believe. The customs and setpieces are adequate, nothing to brag about, these key aspects of the production were the ones with the most efforts put into it.
The movie doesn’t focus on its strengths, and that’s unfortunate, too many subplots and the characters separated from each other, the whiny geeky man child it’s such a nuisance and a terrible lead character, you might wish he was a side plot instead of the lead character.
In the end, Kung Fu League it’s not even worth the effort or the time if you see it at a disposable bin somewhere just don’t pick it up out, just don’t. The movie could have been great, but it’s not, that’s unfortunate, it has few bright spots, but not enough to guarantee the slightest interest for an Asian martial arts film buff.