Tag Archives: Kung fu

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: THE INVISIBLE FIGHT (2023)

AKA Nähtamatu võitlus

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The Invisible Fight is currently available for VOD rental or purchase.

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Rainer Sarnet

FEATURING: Ursel Tilk, Kaarel Pogga, Ester Kuntu, Indrek Sammul

PLOT: A conscript is inspired to join a local monastery where he hopes to pursue his new dream of mastering holy martial arts after surviving a massacre at the hands of three kung fu masters who descend from the heavens.

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: Deeply informed by both Eastern Orthodox Christian theology and kung fu film lore, Rainer Sarnet’s fish-out-of-water comedy bubbles over with goofy slapstick, heavy metal, and ancient wisdom.

COMMENTS: The path toward enlightenment is traveled with humility—and preferably while listening to Black Sabbath. The Invisible Fight dives deeply into the past, with anachronistic layers coexisting as joyfully as its insouciance interweaves with asceticism. What could easily have come across as the height of judgmental arrogance—fun poked at holy traditions (brick pillow, anyone?), martial artistry (pierogi fight and sausage stand-off), and flippant dismissal of a sinister Soviet past—sublimates into a vapor of merry rumination as it zips from set piece to set piece, leavening its silliness with wisdom, and vice versa, as its main character grows from a blithe, metal-head mechanic into a blithe, metal-head Starets monk.

It is 1973, and our hero, a border guard named Rafael, witnesses the unlikely arrival of three kung fu fighters. Though his peers are murdered mercilessly—if quite stylishly—by this gang of heavenly warriors, Rafael is spared, with his commander’s dying words (“I guess God has other plans for you”) seared into his young mind as deeply as the transcendent run-in with the boombox-bearing bad-asses. Fast forward to life at home, where he rocks, and while rocking rocks long, rebellious hair, a shiny cross (in defiance of the Soviet authorities), and a dumb little red car that’s always breaking down.

Stylistically, The Invisible Fight owes its verve to silent comedy, classic wuxia, and the ubiquitous Black Sabbath classic, “The Wizard.” (This track is, appropriately, from the album “We Sold Our Soul for Rock ‘N’ Roll.”) Cartoony blast-titles mark the chapters, with designations like “A Lesson in Humility”, “A Lesson in Humility Number 2”, “Shadow Fight”, “The Demon”, and so on. Sarnet plinks in Looney Tunes sound cues for winks, wobbles, whacks, and whiplash. Practical martial arts duels are liberally sprinkled throughout, whether they be between Rafael and a rival monk, or during a bout with a State Security agent on a holy road trip.

This film is, as you have sussed by now, silly to the core, and borders on giddy. But this renders the deep philosophy all the more remarkable and memorable. Christ’s many icon-ic gestures are correlated to martial moves; Rafael’s challenges, though often solved with kung fu, echo the trials and tribulations of holy men of yore; and the overarching—might I even say, fundamental—lessons of Christ’s philosophical teachings are constantly reinforced while never feeling preachy. Humility, forgiveness, and self-awareness elude Rafael. But by the end, under the benevolent tutelage of the elderly brother Nafanail, Rafael cruises his blindly-cheerful self to a form of Zen—introducing the monastics to the joys of Black Sabbath along the way.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Writer-director Rainer Sarnet’s deliriously weird The Invisible Fight would be irksome if it weren’t crafted so lovingly and with a charming earnestness.” — Charles Lyons-Burt, Slant (contemporaneous)

Invisible Fight [Blu-ray]
  • Kung fu meets heavy metal meets Orthodox monks in this Estonian action comedy

IT CAME FROM THE READER-SUGGESTED QUEUE: KUNG POW: ENTER THE FIST (2002)

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DIRECTED BY: Steve Oedekerk

FEATURING: Steve Oedekerk, Jennifer Tung, Leo Lee

PLOT: The Chosen One, raised by rodents to become a talented martial artist, seeks revenge against the assassin who murdered his family when he was an infant.

Still from Kung Pow: Enter the Fist (2002)

COMMENTS: TV Tropes calls it a Gag Dub: take an existing film and record new dialogue to completely change the meaning of the film, ideally with amusing results. Comedy troupes from The Firesign Theater to the L.A. Connection have mined old movies for laughs, while more recently Bad Lip Reading and Brad Neely’s “Wizard People, Dear Reader” have conjured up demented versions of pop culture favorites. The Citizen Kane of such projects is certainly ’s What’s Up, Tiger Lily?, in which new dialogue turned a Japanese spy thriller into the hunt for the world’s best egg salad recipe. 

Steve Oedekerk—the storytelling mastermind behind such box office smashes as the Ace Ventura movies, Eddie Murphy’s Nutty Professor films, and Patch Adams—decided that he had something to contribute to this proud tradition, grafting a new script onto the 1976 Chinese martial arts flick Hu He Shuang Xing (Tiger & Crane Fists). Oedekerk adds a 21st century twist, however, inserting himself into the film through a combination of judicious editing, digital replacement, blue-screen insertion, and new footage featuring replicated sets and spot-on doubles for the original cast. That idea is the funniest thing about Kung Pow: Enter the Fist, and Oedekerk throws himself into the effort with gusto, gamely acting like a complete fool and enduring the indignities of both repeated punches and gushes of fluids in the pursuit of laughs. Beyond the initial concept, though, there aren’t many to be found.

The film certainly tries. Most of the characters have silly names, and groups of marching soldiers or fighters-in-training conduct inane conversations. Oedekerk does nearly all the voices, usually with an exaggerated accent as the entire joke: the narrator speaks with a Chicano vocal fry, a street vendor screams like Dick Vitale, henchmen range from Southern hick to , and the leading lady sounds like a bad impression of Miss Piggy and ends nearly every sentence with an off-putting “wee-oo-wee” noise. Meanwhile, random Easter eggs are thrown in for good measure, from a whale to a CGI alien to the RMS Titanic. It’s the kind of humor you would call “sophomoric,” only because there’s no word for freshman-level comedy. Or lower.

Every now and then, Oedekerk hits on an amusing idea, like a boombox-toting henchman whose tastes run from late-90s hip-hop to the glurgy ballad “The Morning After,” or a pair of speaking characters who never open their mouths but sing about their jobs as ventriloquists. But more often, Kung Pow is not content to let the joke speak for itself. For example, we could probably surmise that Oedekerk is going to fashion a set of nunchucks out of a pair of gophers, but the dialogue gives us a full play-by-play, refusing to leave it to chance that we’ll get it. Similarly amusing is a run of characters who have a touching dying moment only to be revealed as not quite dead—but once the joke is told, the scenes go on, stretching to fill time.  

Redubbed wuxia gets the audience in the seats, but Oedekerk doesn’t really have a plan after that. Rather than subverting the usual themes of the genre, Kung Pow adopts them with a plot centered around revenge for wrongs done long ago. The characters become clownish, but their stunts and expressions keep their original context. So after a while, Oedekerk has to invent other things to happen, culminating in a lengthy milk-drenched battle with a CGI cow that includes two separate parodies of The Matrix.

A central problem is Oedekerk himself. A fairly bland actor on his face (he looks like a blend of Ben Stiller and Scott Bakula), he becomes something else as the Caucasian hero in a film whose Chinese cast is turned into buffoons. He has no independent personality or history with an audience, so by literally replacing the hero with himself, he unwittingly strolls into a minefield of cultural appropriation. Kung Pow may not be actively offensive, but it definitely has issues to deal with.

Kung Pow is actually a technical marvel, with roughly half of the movie consisting of new scenes slotted into the original film seamlessly. But those skills are being applied to 3rd-grade-level jokes, which makes you wonder if you wouldn’t be better off just watching Tiger & Crane Fists. Part of the appeal of the Gag Dub is that the biggest part of the job—making the actual movie—has already been done. Kung Pow demonstrates that you still have to do the hard work of comedy in order for your new thing to stand on its own.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…there’s a raft of unfunny Matrix references and an ongoing battle to see who can perform the most bizarrely inappropriate dubbing job. It’s incongruously humorous to see the off-kilter lip-synching that dazzles the funnybone in some of those old Shaw Brothers’ semi-epics of the mid-Seventies that spawned the whole Hong Kong chopsocky market, chiefly because the erratic dubbing and clueless subtitles were unintentional mistakes. Parodying those golden moments successfully, however, is virtually impossible to do, as Oedekerk proves throughout this film’s 81-minute runtime.” – Marc Savlov, Austin Chronicle (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Andrew. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: TAOISM DRUNKARD [GUI MA TIAN SHI] (1984)

aka Drunken Wu Tang, Miracle Fighters 3

DIRECTED BY: Yuen Cheung-Yan 

FEATURING: Yuen Cheung-Yan, Yuen Yat-Chor, Yuen Shun-Yi

PLOT: A bucktoothed alcoholic beggar is ordered by his brother, a temple priest, to round up a group of virginal young men to defend against a powerful villain with supernatural abilities.

Still from Taoism Drunkard (1984)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: The Chinese martial arts genre is rife with insanity, but even by those lofty standards, Taoism Drunkard is pretty zany. No character behaves with any respect to reality as we might know it, factors such as physics are disregarded at will, and the whole film is laced with an undercurrent of naughtiness. It’s consistently unexpected. 

COMMENTS: Taoism Drunkard follows multiple traditions at once. It is, of course, a martial arts film. It also joins the ranks of films utilizing the techniques of drunken boxing, the fighting style that mimics the movements of an intoxicated person to make every contact seem surprising and impactful. In particular, it carries on the tradition of Yuen Clan, the filmed output of actor Yuen Siu-Tien (who played Jackie Chan’s sensei in Drunken Master) and six of his children, including the legendary martial arts choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping. And significantly, it’s the third and final entry in the Miracle Fighters series, which gave the Yuen brothers a chance to perfect their blend of fighting, magical elements, and twisted comedy. It’s a lot to live up to, which maybe is why Drunken Taoism is so strenuous in its wildness; it’s almost desperate to stand out amongst so much product, so much tradition. 

Taoism Drunkard has only three of the brothers, but each play their appointed roles, like Chinese Marx Brothers (they even do the famous mirror routine). Cheung-Yan (wearing an absurd pair of buckteeth and pedaling around in his own rat car) is the perpetually inebriated screwup whose drinking fuels his fighting skill. Yat-Chor is practically the straight man as the immature but serious-minded love interest constantly struggling to impress his grandmother. (In drag, Cheung-Yan conveys considerably more dignity in that role.) And then there’s Shun-Yi, gloriously over-the-top as the malevolent Old Devil who exists only to fight and cackle maniacally. If you’ve seen any of their other films (particularly this one’s predecessor, Shaolin Drunkard), then you’ll feel right at home with these cartoonish characters. 

It’s where they put them that makes the difference. On the one hand, the brothers engage in fight scenes with extraordinary combinations of action and imagination. Characters fly, spin through the air like a corkscrewing missile, run up walls, and hurl objects that seem to have minds of their own. (One of the few women not treated as a joke is so skilled at combat that she can use the sleeves of her gown as weapons.) The fight scenes are like glorious dance numbers, casting realism aside, joyful in their inventiveness.

The counterpart to this breathtaking stuntwork is the dumbest of dumb comedy. Everyone behaves with an indignity that Benny Hill would find embarrassing. Fat jokes, shrewish women jokes, drunk jokes, jokes about butts and groins and boobs, a joke with very lengthy setup about drinking urine, and one joke of the literal “g-g-g-ghost” variety. Consider a funeral in which the reanimated corpse interrupts both a graverobber’s attempt to steal his golden upper plate and his widow’s intended assignation with another mourner. Or a confrontation on the street that is suddenly accompanied by a snippet of Howard Jones’ “New Song”, which is the only thing that plants the film in its time. (The 1984 production date is nothing short of astonishing; the ancient-looking film stock and even creakier misogynist mindset seem a decade older at least.)  As though made by 14-year-olds for 12-year-olds, it’s comedy of the most infantile strain, and staging it directly alongside the ridiculous-but-serious fight scenes creates a startling contrast.

Perhaps nothing captures the spirit of Taoism Drunkard better than the craziest thing in it. Yat-Chor’s wise grandmother has created a kind of automaton fighting machine to defend the plot’s MacGuffin, and seeing it in action is unforgettable. The original subtitled release calls it the Banana Monster (a reference to its preferred target, its opponent’s genitals), while the English dub refers to it as the Watermelon Monster (due to its appearance). Whatever you call it hardly matters in the face of what it does. This smooth-skinned, razor-toothed Q*bert speaks in a childish voice, jumps about the room like a rabid frog, deploys spring-loaded satellite dishes that can only be called breast detectors, and snaps hungrily until it finally rolls back into its box. It provokes laughter the moment you see it, and yet the Old Devil’s fear of it is entirely appropriate. It’s utterly absurd, yet believably dangerous. It’s the film in a nutshell — or possibly a watermelon rind.

There’s a reliable streak of weirdness in the martial arts genre, but Taoism Drunkard stands out through its willingness to go bigger, to be sillier and more gross, and to push the boundaries of what makes for a compelling showdown. It has done its legacy proud, and possibly done it one better.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

Taoism Drunkard is, dare we suggest it, their weirdest movie ever. A weird, wiggy explosion of talent and surreal brio….” – Subway Cinema

OTHER LINK OF INTEREST:

WriteUps – Banana monster aka Watermelon monster – This character page for the Banana Monster is useful for all your RPG needs.

(This movie was nominated for review by TheMooCow, who got sick of waiting for us to review it and reviewed it themselves in 2022. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: KUNG FURY (2015)

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY: David Sandberg

FEATURING: David Sandberg, Jorma Taccone, Leopold Nilsson

PLOT: After his captain is murdered via telephone, policeman Kung Fury must travel back in time to kill the assassin, Kung Führer (AKA Adolf Hitler).

Still from Kung Fury (2015)

COMMENTS: Kung Fury is one of the most ridiculous things I have seen. It is also one of the funniest. Even more impressively, it is that rarest of silly comedy films: one that has the wherewithal and willpower not to overstay its welcome. Apart from its other (considerable) qualities, I’d tip my had to Sandberg for shutting up shop and spinning the closing credits well before he wore through the already well-worn tropes that are the bread and bullets of the genre. From the opening skateboard car-flip to the smugly defiant Hitler soaring amidst the high-rises of 1985 downtown Miami on his mechanized Nazi eagle, it never felt forced, fatigued, or unfunny.

Even before (or… after?) Hitler’s appearance in downtown Miami, the city’s not a pretty sight. Street toughs hassle cops with impunity, flipping their squad cars like skeet discs for target practice. Arcade machines flash a nasty “Fuck You!” to the unhappy gamers who kick it after their sky unicorn is shot down on-screen. And transformer death machines spring to life, smashing up passing motorists and menacing passing canines. These hassles are all in a day’s work for… Kung Fury: a super cop who does not play by the book. The chip on his shoulder is as real as his sardonic gruffness is fake: years back, he lost his partner and mentor at the hands of a Kung fu master; before young Fury could pull the trigger on the assailant, he was “…hit by lightning and bitten by a cobra.” The rest is history.

And there is quite a lot of history: ancient Vikings astride their dinosaur mounts, the mighty god Thor (who utters his immortal words, “Stop! Hammer Time”), and, of course, the requisite hundreds of Nazi goons ready to fall under the righteous bullet spray sof Hackerman, Triceracop, Barbarianna and Katana. Oh, and a second welcome appearance from Thor and his epic pecs. Added to all this inspired lunacy is Jorma Taccone’s performance as a martial arts fascist; the actor perfectly captures the bizarre speechifying articulations of the erstwhile Führer.

Kung Fury is first and foremost a lampoon of ’80s crime/martial arts television and film. The creative team is spot on with everything—gaudy New Wave score, “futuristic” Tron-style animations, and even a seamlessly included advertisement for a newfangled mobile telephone. It’s as resourceful as it is silly. Leaning heavily on the retrowave vibe, occasional “tracking” issues conveniently crop up to disturb the image just when the most expensive effects sequences might take place. The fight choreography is masterful, too; during the Nazi fight, it switches to a long uninterrupted side-scroller video game ballet. Absurd surrealism pops up as well, as when Fury’s boss is shot through a telephone. (A similar stunt from a classic ’70s film comes to mind.) Sandberg is informed, witty, and has an eye for action timing. Kung Fury is, admittedly, no “Must See”, but I would be hard-pressed to recommend it enough.

At the time of this writing, the producers have made Kung Fury available for free (see below).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…an insane and ultra bizarre film…”–Martin Hafer, Influx Magazine

301. FANTASY MISSION FORCE (1983)

Recommended

Mi ni te gong dui; AKA Dragon Attack

“If it sounds ridiculous, that’s only because it was.”– Jackie Chan on Fantasy Mission Force (quoted in Keith Bailey, “The Unknown Movies”)

DIRECTED BY: Yen-Ping Chu

FEATURING: , , Yu Wang (), Yueh Sun, David Tao, Jin Fang, Shiu Bu Lia, Ling Chang

PLOT: Four Allied generals have been captured by the Japanese. Mercenary Don Wen is hired to liberate them, and recruits a team which includes “Old Sun,” escape artist “Greased Lightning,” two kilt-wearing soldiers, con man Billy, and Lilly, Billy’s bazooka-toting on-and-off girlfriend who tags along when she hears about the cash reward. Tailed by rogues Sammy and Emily, the team encounters Amazons and a haunted house on their way to a surprisingly bloody showdown with the kidnappers.

Still from Fantasy Mission Force (1983)

BACKGROUND:

  • Director Yen-Ping Chu (sometimes credited as “Lawrence Full” or “Kevin Chu”) is the director of sixty-five (mostly kung fu and comedy) films; this is his only effort which is marginally well-known in the West.
  • According to persistent but unconfirmed rumors, a Triad-connected movie mogul ordered a hit on Jackie Chan when he decided to change studios. Jimmy Wang Yu intervened to settle the dispute, and as part of the deal Chan agreed to lend his growing star power to two of Wang’s movies (this being one).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: An ambush by ribbon-shooting ninjas? Bloody ghost hands waving wads of toilet paper? Assault of the Road Warrior-Japanese-punk Nazis? Your opinion on this one is as good as ours, and it’s likely to change many times during the movie as some new amazement pops up. We’ll just go with any shot of the assembled team: Old Sun in his top hat, Brigitte Lin in black leather with a bazooka, Billy in his white suit and Elvis sideburns, the kilt-wearing pair of misfits… as weird a group ever formed to fight an anachronistic battle against fascist kidnappers somewhere in Canada, Luxembourg, or Taiwan.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Scottish/Chinese mercenaries; toilet paper ghosts; Japanese Nazis in Chevys

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Packed with kung fu, shootouts, flying ninjas, hopping vampires, and slapstick comedy reminiscent of Benny Hill, Fantasy Mission Force is one of the only commercial entertainments ever released where you can honestly say you have no idea what will happen next. It’s a pulp surrealism masterpiece, set in a previously undiscovered movie universe at the conjunction of the Shaw Brothers, , and the Three Stooges.


Original Cantonese trailer for Fantasy Mission Force

COMMENTS: Although some reviewers are reluctant to discuss the Continue reading 301. FANTASY MISSION FORCE (1983)