THE STRAIGHT DOPE:
The idea behind Kung Pow! Enter the Fist is a good, if not entirely original one. Director-writer-star Steve Oedekerk took an old kung-fu flick (Tiger and Crane Fist) and inserted himself into the footage, as well as overdubbing all the dialog, to create a completely new story and an incredibly silly new universe. Woody Allen tried something similar (with just the dubbing) in What's Up, Tiger Lilly? and other movies have tread similar ground. What makes Oedekerk's film stand out, however, is the obvious love for the original material that he has and the completely insane sense of lunacy that he brings to much of the film.
In a way, Kung Pow! reminded me of a Conan O'Brien joke: It's funny at first, but then Conan works it for too long and it becomes unfunny. Then, however, Conan drives it so far into the ground that it actually resurfaces and the sheer obnoxiousness of it becomes incredibly funny all over again. The opening scene of Kung Pow! serves only to set up the plot and the jokes are mostly weak. However, the last moments of the opening hint at the madness to come. The next 25 minutes or so are some of the funniest comedy I've ever seen, which caused much belly-holding, floor-slapping laughter. Then it all gets old for a while and there's a good half-hour of boredom (including the much-ballyhooed fight with a cow, a bad idea that doesn't work). The final half, however, regains many of the qualities that made the first sequences so good.
The Chosen One (or just "Chosen"), played by Oedekerk, is a typical wandering hero looking to avenge the deaths of his family. After walking (and occasionally driving) through the vast expanses of ancient China, Chosen meets Master Tung, a character from Tiger and Crane Fist), who is given some extremely funny dialog. Tang warns Chosen about the sinister Council and their evil minion Master Pain, who soon gives himself a new name (I won't spoil that one for you). Tung and Pain, along with Tung's student Wimp Lo and Chosen's "shy" love interest Ling, are absolutely great characters. The best scenes in the movie are the ones that feature them, dubbed in ridiculous fashion by Oedekerk, interacting with Chosen. Each is a knowing play on a chopsocky stereotype (the wise, old teach; the powerful, vengeful enemy; the ill-trained, jealous rival student; the demure, sad girl) and the way Oedekerk works with them is just perfect.
By spoofing the sounds and charisma of Bruce Lee, the acrobatics of Jackie Chan, the eye-gouging toughness of Sonny Chiba, plus a whole world of unsung Kung Fu stars, Oedekerk has actually crafted a very loving ode to the genre. With a few pokes, of course, as well.
Since Kung Pow! consists of material from a number of sources, including old Hong Kong footage, newly shot footage, and CG effects, a standard review of the video quality doesn't apply. Add to that the fact that the picture is meant to emulate an old, beat-up chopsocky flick, and you get a film that was never meant to have the sharp, clean look of a typical Hollywood film. Taking that into account, it looks excellent. The attempt at matching new and old footage works surprisingly well, with the old footage impressively cleaned up and the new footage dirtied-down to meet somewhere in the middle. The anamorphic widescreen transfer here looks excellent and probably looks exactly the way Oedekerk imagined.
The audio is also purposefully unusual. Since both the old and new footage has been dubbed over in typical out-of-sync style, the soundtrack looks at first glance to be a mess. It is actually Dolby Digital 5.1 and sounds really good. The funky sound effects and music mixed with Oedekerk's ridiculous voice-overs (he does nearly every character) works really well. There are also hilarious French and Spanish Dolby Digital surround tracks done in silly voices. See below for additional audio tracks.
This disc is called "The Chosen Edition" and deserves the title. The disc is really packed. There's a commentary track from director-star-writer Oedekerk along with editor-producer Paul marshal. It's a funny track filled with silly comments as well as information on the film's innumerable techniques and effects.
There are also a couple of other special audio tracks. One includes the actual pre-dubbed dialog of all the actors. So, for the Hong Kong footage you get the original scratchy Chinese track while for the new footage you get to hear Oedekerk and his fellow actors talking about pastries and other nonsense. The other extra audio track is the "book-on-tape' track," which consists of a guy with a stuffy British accent reading all of the film's dialog. That makes a total of six different soundtracks on the disc, each one with its own set of guilty pleasures.
There are also a ton of extra scenes, alternate dialog cuts, behind-the-scenes clips, and featurettes. Plus a couple of silly Easter eggs and very funny animated menus make this a honkin' good disc.
Kung Pow! is definitely not the kind of movie that I normally watch. I was expecting it to be disappointing in the way that Farrelly Brothers / Jim Carrey / Adam Sandler movies inevitably are. Maybe it's my lingering affection for chopsocky or maybe it's Oedekerk's dorky appeal, but I found Kung Pow! to be one of the funniest comedies I'd seen in years.
Email Gil Jawetz at firstname.lastname@example.org