Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Instant Kung Fu Man

Plot: Instant Kung Fu Man has a simple comedy premise which must be as old as fighting itself: convince people that you are tougher then they are to (a) bluff your way out of trouble and (b) bask in a tough guy image (and the rewards it can bring). In this case our hero Shao Hu (Fang Yeh-Hip) is a kind of Kung Fu Roger the Dodger: he has an arsenal of tricks to bluff his way through various fighting and training situations.

The film starts with an(somewhat confusing) explanation of two brothers, Shao Hu and Shao Tu (both played by Fang) one of whom is a kung fu expert, and the other a devious waster. Shao Hu is sent to the Shaolin temple where his lazy antics do not go over well with our Buddha-loving friends, who decide to allow him to fight his way out past the notorious (and hilarious) Shaolin wooden men, who in this instantiation look like something from 'The Nutcracker. Ingeniously he defeats them with woodworm!

Shao Hu teams up for a robbery with Yi Lan (Hwang Jang Lee, i.e. the main man), which results in them fighting over the spoils and then splitting up. During a bandit attack on his wagon, "The Robber" is introduced as a genuinely skillful fighter, however he too falls for Shao Hu / Shao Tu's hoax and begs to be taken on as a student. Shao Hu then tricks his way into convincing a village police chief that he is a skilled fighter. Polly turns up as a fast kicker, Shao Hu "lets" The Robber get some practice on her (i.e. she beats him up). It appears Polly fancies him and from then on stalks our heroes, who (somewhat rudely) tell her she has an odour problem. Charming!

So far so farcical. What lifts this film above average are the appearances of John Liu and Hwang Jang Lee. John has been stalking our hero since he left the Shaolin temple, and is not fooled by his various Roger the Dodger trickery: and (luckily for all of us) Hwang Jang Lee is also hanging around after revenge for the earlier botched robbery. Cue two terrific showdowns ; one nightime fight between Hwang and John which is all leg-shapes and splits; and the final showdown where our hero's brother finally catches up with him only to be quickly despatched by Hwang. Shao Hu (and confusingly, Shao Tu) and John team up against Hwang's ferocious kicking, a truly terrific leg fight to end on. At last our hero's trickery comes good with inspired use of a metal hoop to cripple Hwang's kicks, and win the day.

Incidentally, the music is truly bizarre: every time Shao employs some trickery to win a fight, we hear a Polka-style version of 'Oh Susanna"!

Fights: Mostly comedy, with Fang Yeh-Hip employing tricks rather tham skill to keep him out of trouble. Corey Yuen and Polly make some decent shapes, but it's the two showdowns with Hwang and John Liu that make this a must. Luckily Yuen Woo Ping choreographs to showcase their incredible flexibility, leg speed and control. If only Flash Legs had turned up too, this would have been leg fighter heaven...

Overall: 4 out of 5, chugs along nicely and has a truly classic finale. A must simply because of the two duels between two of the all time kicking greats.