While Judge Bill Gibron often apologizes for using the "Touch of Death" on bad movies, he makes no excuse for disliking this half-baked Croatian "comedy."
During the war in Bosnia, Mira was sent away by her mother Kate and her father Jozo to live in Germany. During her time there, she experienced the open, liberated lifestyle that her homeland never offered. When the war ends and she returns home, her family is furious. Mira is pregnant and she's not married. Since that's a cultural curse for a Croat, Kate and Jozo quickly devise a cover story to conceal their child's lack of spouse. Mira is suddenly made a widow and a local hoodlum is enlisted to find her a suitable "second" husband. Most of the prospects are pathetic, including a closeted Muslim, a paranoid ex-soldier, and a mine sweeper who worries more about rabbits than humans. It is this latter candidate that catches Mira's eye, but she's not really ready for anything, let alone marriage. Just as she's about to run away, she goes into labor. Believe it or not, Mira has another shock in store for her family. The baby is not Croatian, as she originally indicated. It is Asian and his obvious Chinese appearance causes instant scandal. Mira doesn't care. She's above the terrible traditions of her people. But her father is flabbergasted, and decides that he must do the right thing…no matter the effect on the family.
Like a short story dragged out to novel length, Sorry for Kung Fu (the title is never explained) is a decent idea made miserable by an attempted full-length feature film treatment. At its core is a potentially powerful premise: a citizenry, fresh from a war marred by mass ethnic cleansing, learns lessons about tolerance when a refugee returns bearing a foreign child in her womb. By challenging tradition via love and familial commitment, the Croats would or could understand that race is not a legitimate reason to hate. Instead, director Ognjen Svilicic contradicts this approach by mentioning a law that allows fathers to "drive out" their disrespectful daughters, banishing them because of pregnancy before marriage or because of the far more evil concern of eugenics. So instead of wondering when the populace will come around to our heroine's point of view, we instead get a narrative filled with half-realized scenes, dispirited leaps in tone, and a finale that fails to resonate as anything other than pre-ordained. Svilicic wants us to sympathize with these people, to see their present plight as suddenly secure refugees of battle and accept that some cultural schisms will always remain. Since the story is so slight and the lack of depth so consistent, we never begin to understand the value of heritage, nor do we identify with such outrageous human harm.
It doesn't help matters much that this is one of the worst-subtitled films in the history of foreign cinema. Whoever handled the translation botched the job so badly that they should be punished for crimes against the state of cinema. We have an impossible time following the dialogue, realizing that huge conversational gaps exist, and marvel at the grammatical and spelling errors. None of this is Svilicic's fault, yet he doesn't make his story vivid enough to be followed, even without sound. Partly because of the budgetary limits of making movies in his native Croatia and partly because of the story's inherent superficiality, there is not much he can do image-wise. The landscape is lovely, with its calm post-war emptiness, and the village location seems viable and real. Still, nothing here helps us get involved in the personal dynamic between the players. The acting is exceptionally poor, monotonous in emotion and dry in delivery. As Mira, Daria Lorenci barely registers. She has a puckish grin and an impish persona, but her line readings are strictly one note and emotionless. Similarly, Filip Rados as Jozo is so busy blurting out catchphrases ("I'll handle this," "I am calm") that we wonder if he's anything other than a collection of clichéd sentiments.
Even when his performers attempt characterization, Svilicic's film comes across as flat. Vera Zima is supposed to be a harried mess as Kate, but she's really just a disgruntled old battleaxe. Mira's brother Marko is like Napoleon Dynamite without the "sweet" surreal script to make him sing. As Veliki, the mobster/matrimonial fixer, Verdran Mlikota is like a Slavic used car salesmen and his connubial candidates are all cookie-cutter crazies, nothing distinguishing them from one another except their individual insanities. While this is suppose to be a comedy—and a satire at that—we never once find ourselves laughing at Mira's fate. This is because it recalls hot-buttons in our own society regarding mixed-race marriages and the offspring that result. We see this circumstance as serious, while the Croats appear to groan with weary resolve that this is the way things are in their world. While many may view the ending as brave (tradition trumps everything apparently, even death), it seems antithetical to what the film's main purpose truly is. Sorry for Kung Fu wants to argue that people are all alike and that heritage has no place in the reality of our ever-shrinking modern world. Sadly, due to elements both in and out of his control, Ognjen Svilicic can't get his point across. As a result, the medium he chooses for his message lets him down time and time again.
LifeSize Entertainment does a decent job with the transfer of this title, the tech specs comparable to the output of other independent DVD labels. The 1.33:1 image is offered in a faux-letterboxed presentation. It is not cropped, but it is also non-anamorphic. The subtitling has already been discussed and the rest of the release's audio aspects are completely acceptable. The sole bonus feature presented is a 40-minute documentary that follows the making of the movie. We see location scouting, actor auditions, rehearsals, and the headaches of making motion pictures in a war-ravaged region of the world. This extra is more interesting than the actual film, since it offers more layers of intrigue than our middling main storyline.
Perhaps if the translation had been better, if the cast had tried to connect with the audience, or if Svilicic had actually told us what this title means (during the making-of material we see "Bruce Lee" bandied about as a possible name for the film), we might be able to enjoy Sorry for Kung Fu. As it stands, this is an underwhelming experience in indeterminate tedium, a confused comedy burying its bias in a sea of stupid idiosyncrasy. Sorry for Kung Fu should apologize for more than just its ambiguous connection to Asia.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Life Size Entertainment
• Making-Of Documentary
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