Judge Bill Gibron is still waiting for Ecky Thump: The Movie.
Where's Quentin Tarantino When You Need Him?
It remains one of the weirdest hit TV shows ever. It sparked a minor cultural interest in martial arts, and even a hilarious hit song. Yes, a decade later, home video would leave fans breathless over the brilliantly choreographed fight scenes coming out of Hong Kong, but the Shaw Brothers would probably have been ashamed of something like Kung Fu. Antiseptic and far removed from the Eastern Warrior of the West envisioned by alleged creator Bruce Lee, the series starred David Carradine (who, today, would be caught up in a world wind of Caucasian playing minority PC fever) and centered on a Eurasian monk who traveled across the Wild Wild West, dishing out "Oriental" wisdom and the occasional (or, later on, frequent) slo-mo chop-sockey beatdowns. After leaving the air in 1975, there were immediate thoughts about how to bring it back. Eleven years later, in 1986, Kung Fu: The Movie made an appearance, hoping to jumpstart interest by pairing Carradine with the son of the man who more or less inspired the show, Brandon Lee.
Now, thanks to that oddball digital service provided by companies like Sony and Warner Bros, you too can be bored out of your gourd by this unnecessary update (though it would go on to spur another stand-alone film, and then a syndicated series). It's 1865 and Caine (Carradine, Kill Bill: Volume 2) is working in a typical 19th century frontier town with a massive opium smuggling problem. Seems a local preacher has been killed trying to expose the ring and his father (Martin Landau, Ed Wood) and his wife (Kerrie Keane, Beverly Hills 90210) want our lead to look into who did the dirty deed. Our hero is also plagued by several personal problems (some returning from the TV series run). There is a price on his head and a group of assassins are out to collect. He is also being pursued by The Manchu (Mako, Pearl Harbor) who wants revenge. In order to achieve same, he has placed Caine's illegitimate son Chung Wang (Brandon Lee, The Crow) under his power and is using the boy to bring down his own dad. Using both his wits and his fists, our champion will take on these challenges, using the ghostly inspiration of his former master (Key Luke, Dead Heat) to guide him.
As someone who was not the biggest fan of the original series (I was a teenager, uninterested in the ways of the Shaolin or shoddy TV interpretations of same), coming into this TV movie update already saw its fair share of prescreening bias. Add in my current appreciate for all things Shaw (and 36 Chambers, etc.) and this trial became almost impossible to endure. Imagine Gunsmoke with James Arness going Zen on his OK Corral gunfight opponents and you have some idea how lax and lame Kung Fu: The Movie is. Brandon Lee adds very little here, his presence almost a mea culpa for the original series "stealing" his father's idea (though the named creators are more than contentious with that accusation) and when compared to the carefully choreographed fisticuffs that would become an action movie staple via the Hong Kong influence, the mediocre martial artistry on display is a joke. The story makes little sense, the characters are near comatose, and instead of wrapping up the threads left hanging from the original show, this movie just manufactures new ones.
The result is something that only those desperate for Carl Douglas and some '70s nostalgia will appreciate. Carradine is disconnected and uninterested and his costars are equally vacant. Apparently, someone had an open checkbook and everyone here lined up for a quick and easy payday. Even the DVR representation from Warners shows how little interest outside the fanatical this title warrants. There are no bonus features, a semi-solid full screen transfer, and a Dolby Digital mix which manages to offer up the dialogue with directness. As a stand-alone title, there's no need for it to exist. As part of a box set of the entire series, including the modern day syndicated update, it's a mandatory part of the packaging. As a part of the weird way '70s TV tried to tap into the changing face of the previous counterculture, Kung Fu was intriguing if insipid. This unnecessary update is proof of the premise's precarious nature.
Guilty. A 90 minute test of your patience.
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