It's like porno, but with kung-fu instead of sex.
"Bad acting…good kung fu" is the holy mantra of KWOON, the low-budget, independent, badly scripted kung-fu adventures from Silicon Valley, originally broadcast on the internet as a series of short films now available on DVD. Chock full of high kicks, clownery, mobsters, mummies, grim reapers, and hot girls, it's hard to find qualm with KWOON, which never takes itself seriously for a second and has too many bloody nipples to inspire any hard feelings with even the most cynical and stuck-up viewer.
Facts of the Case
All three KWOON episodes are included on this DVD—episodes two, three, and four, that is. (Shot in reverse order, the first episode has yet to be completed, in case you are wondering where the alpha episode went.)
Episode 2…Death vs. Kung Fu Car Wash
To earn some extra cash, the KWOON students decide to hold a car wash in order to scrounge together some dollar bills to enter a martial arts tournament. By a bizarre string of coincidences, however, the students accidentally get placed on Death's "naughty" list and are marked for immediate extermination. Fortunately for the KWOON kids, the field agents of the Ministry of Death have their hands full and decide to send the new kid, Mort, to tag and bag the kung-fu students.
Episode 3…Collection Agency
It's a typical day for the students of KWOON, hanging out in the stock room, playing with all the weapons. But when a Fresno gangster places an order for 45 swords, KWOON springs into action and ships the order. Unfortunately, the gangster is less than forthcoming with any sort of monetary compensation for the merchandise. When the gang goes to investigate and invoice the mobster in person, they find out firsthand who ended up with all the swords…
Episode 4…Mummy Dearest
A day like any other, except for the following: while researching a school paper, the KWOON gang ends up resurrecting a 3,000-year old mummy, who begins to terrorize the museum. Luckily, the gang springs to action, piles into the Mystery Machine, and uncovers the real culprit—Old Man Winters, who runs the haunted amusement park! Also, the mummy knows kung-fu.
What makes me love KWOON, in a special warm fuzzy way, is how it reminds me of making camcorder videos with my friends in high school. Once, we made this film that started off as a documentary about upper-class inner-city youths, but, by the end of the film, it had turned into a "killer monster from the microwave" movie, and we were all viciously slain by an unseen monster, except that I came back to life dressed up in this Viking costume we found in the basement, complete with fur loincloth, and…
Er, never mind that part. (Also, I wish I was kidding about the loincloth.)
KWOON is seriously independent filmmaking. According to legend, creator/writer/director/kung-fu student Todd Roy (who casts himself as the comedic nipple-bleeding buffoon in his own films) made a cool $100,000 playing the stock markets and decided to "invest" his profits by bankrolling KWOON. Resisting the temptation to do all the other things you can do with a $100,000 (e.g., anything), he cast other kung-fu students and friends as actors and went to it. The final result manifested as episodes originally found on the internet at the official KWOON website (www.KWOON.com), a site that soon found a large and devoted fan base, spreading rapidly by word of mouth.
Though the makers of KWOON proudly advertise their rampant bad acting skills, in truth, I've seen worse. Heck, they act better than I ever could. Truthfully, it looks exactly like it should: a bunch of kung-fu students getting together to make short films about fighting mummies and mobsters. As such, it has an inherent honesty and freshness to it, an enjoyable lack of pretentiousness that can be relished like fine wine. And speaking of wine: that is what the kung-fu antics flow like—these kids have some pretty impressive moves.
The students stumble, pummel, swing fists, and deliver each line with such killer deadpan intonation that even the most uptight observer is bound to crack a smile at some point during each episode. In a way, KWOON plays like a kung-fu version of Scooby Doo—minus the dog, and the van, and Old Man Winters, that is. The students run into an absurdly comical nemesis, some kung-fu fighting and slapstick buffoonery ensues, Todd ends up with bloody nipples, and the cycle repeats. Juvenile, perhaps; but it is a formula executed to comedic perfection.
The video and audio quality on this DVD reflect the fiscally challenged roots that KWOON sprouts from, but, all things considered, the episodes actually look pretty impressive. Obvious care has gone into making each episode look and sound as nice as possible, and, for the most part, the effort pays off. Forget downloading video off the internet—DVD is the way to go with KWOON.
The video, presented in a simple 1.85:1 aspect ratio is modestly crisp and clear, with an occasional over-saturation of reds and greens in the image, but nothing too distracting. Black levels are respectable, and all the action comes across effectively and clearly. The dialogue oftentimes is recorded too quietly to be easily discerned, and distortion, wind noise, and other ambient sounds often overpower the mix. But the music is always effective (if slightly repetitive), and the mandatory kung-fu oomphs, swishes, and thuds pound out the speakers appropriately.
As if the kung-fu goodness wasn't enough, KWOON comes absolutely loaded with 90 minutes worth of extra content, including a hilarious commentary with cast for each episode, laughing at their martial-arts buffoonery and pointing out all the small, nitpicking mistakes and errors made during filming. A wide battery of outtakes, fight practice and demonstration footage, behind-the-scene glimpses, trailers, and hidden Easter eggs pepper the disc, providing interest and enjoyment aplenty. In fact, some of the best jokes and gags are present in these small vignettes. One of the more interesting elements of these features involves the laborious hoop-jumping involved in pitching a project like KWOON to producers and the entire DVD-crafting and -creating production, which is infinitely more complicated than one could ever conceive. Much credit should go to the KWOON creators for including so much extra content and so many inside jokes on this DVD for the enjoyment of the public.
But, by far, the most endearing quality of KWOON is not the kung-fu or the hilariously corny acting, or even the inanely scripted storylines. What takes the cake in the enjoyment department is the knowledge that the creators of KWOON not only obviously love making each and every martial-arts episode, but also have incredible fun doing it. And this feeling of fun permeates every digitally encoded bit on this DVD. A lot of hilarious energy went into crafting KWOON in its various incarnations across the internet and DVD, and the enjoyment is utterly contagious—kind of like the stomach flu, except the kind that makes you laugh instead of having explosive diarrhea.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
A rebuttal argument about the lower points of KWOON would be foolhardy and end up nowhere. The film's obvious faults could easily be interpreted as its strengths. For example, sure, bad acting sucks…but, on the other hand, bad acting kind of rules. Lousy production values are lame…but can also be campy and fun as all heck. Get the idea?
It really depends on which side of the cinematic railroad tracks you want to be on at the end of the day. Citizen Kane, it ain't…but KWOON never even remotely aspires for such lofty or pretentious heights. And therein lies the distinction that separates all independent and B-movie aficionados from their snobby A-list brethren. This is indie quality filmmaking at its best: full of bad acting, kung-fu, bloody nipples, and wisecracking grim reaper skeleton marionettes. And for what KWOON sets out to do, it does it pretty freaking spectacularly.
KWOON makes me happy about film and being a movie-reviewing-guy. Just knowing that people still choose to spend their hard-earned money financing projects like KWOON, that people are creating films on an independent level, sharing them with as many people as possible…well, it fills my heart with low-budget goodness. And the fact that bloody nipples happens to be the personal messages that the creators of KWOON hope to spread across the planet only makes me happier.
KWOON will appeal to many: the die-hard independent film crowd, the campy Troma crowd, those nurtured by drive-in martial-arts classics, or those who would gather amusement from seeing people kung-fu fight a mummy (which, theoretically, is every man on the planet). Pick up KWOON for a night of campy kung-fu enjoyment, and feel good about supporting the independent filmmaking spirit all at the same time.
And bloody nipples. They deserve support, too.
KWOON is good times, baby. Not guilty!
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