“Kung Pow: Enter the Fist” is a perfect example of a bad idea poorly executed. The obvious inspiration for Steve Oedekerk’s kung-fu farce is Woody Allen’s 1966 “What’s Up, Tiger Lily?” As a lark, Allen took a two-year old Japanese spy flick (“Kagi no kag”) and redubbed it with his usual wit–the much sought-after secret was an egg-salad recipe–and the result was quite funny. Oedekerk uses found material in a similar way, but his method is much more elaborate and his approach much less sophisticated. He’s taken a 1976 Hong Kong actioner, Jimmy Wang Yu’s “Hu he shuangxing,” interspersed footage from it with new material featuring himself, and then dubbed in (mostly himself, and often in a voice resembling that of Miss Piggy) dialogue that fashions a hokey story about a callow young man, “the chosen one,” who must fight a villain called Mr. Pain; a kung-fu academy and some romantic interest are also inevitably involved. Thus the picture aims to satirize a genre which, in its original form, is already pretty funny– always a problem. (It’s so old a genre, moreover, that straightforward examples have already become self-parody.) But to make matters worse, Oedekerk’s take on it has zero style and demonstrates an infantile mentality, in which crudity and cheap shots are the order of the day. The end result only runs about 75 minutes (not counting the final crawls, complete with phony outtakes inspired by Jackie Chan, one supposes), but it feels interminable.
There’s no need to waste much time on the plot, since Oedekerk really hasn’t concocted one. What’s noticeable is the puerile attitude he imposes on the cliches he’s chosen to include, and the ineptitude with which the individual moments are staged. Not a single scene builds in the picture–stuff is just thrown chaotically on screen in the vain hope that something will stick. The greatest effort was obviously expended on the special effects sequences–one involving a kick- boxing infant, the other a martial arts cow–but both go on far too long, are disfigured by in-your- face vulgarity, and ultimately fall pretty flat. Otherwise most of the laughs are supposed to derive from the dialogue and the fact that the “dubbing” is designed never to match the mouth movements; but Oedekerk’s writing is flat, often resorting to nonsense sounds and the sort of non-sequiturs that induce groans instead of chuckles, and the bad-dubbing gag pales quickly. Before too many minutes pass, “Kung Pow” has come to seem a lot less amusing, and far less clever, than any given episode of “Mystery Science Theatre.” And Oedekerk’s own performance is amateur-night at best. (As “Airport” showed, it takes real thespian skill to pull off this sort of parody, and that’s something Oedekerk sorely lacks–as do the rest of his unknown cast.) Technically, the new footage is matched very well with the old–both look terrible. Whether that’s a positive must be left to the individual viewer to decide.
Understandably, the distributor declined to screen “Kung Pow” for critics prior to opening day. That’s fair; it’s not a critic’s movie. What’s unfair is that Twentieth Century Fox did screen it for the paying public. It’s not a movie for them, either–unless they’re brain-dead or masochistic.