'What's Up, Tiger Lily?' for the New Millennium
Parody is the most tricky film genre to master. It requires delicate comedic skills and talents as well as a consistent beat and an unlikely target to lampoon. I thought writer/director Steve Oedekerk's Kung Pow: Enter the Fist would be a prime example of what not to do with a parody, but witnessing its mercilessly cheesy spoofing of the martial arts genre proved me wrong. Truth be told, I have never laughed as much or as consistently as I did at Kung Pow, and I'm not talking about a snicker or a chuckle. I'm talking about actual, out-loud laughs of the rolling-on-the-floor kind.
Using digital techniques, Oedekerk seamlessly inserts himself and another actor or two into footage taken from a '70s karate flick titled Tiger and Crane Fists (a.k.a. Savage Killers). He also re-dubs the entire soundtrack himself and shoots new scenes to help tie the footage into an 80-minute festival of goofiness.
Oh, right, the story...Having proven himself to be a martial arts champion since he was a baby, the Chosen One (Steve Oedekerk) has wandered the countryside in search of the man who killed his family: the indestructible Master Pain, who now prefers to be called Betty. The two adversaries meet at last in a small Chinese village, where the Chosen One vows to exact his revenge, training on modern exercise equipment and battling a ninja cow in his quest to fight Betty. In the meantime, a one-breasted woman (Jennifer Tung), a face named "Tonguey" living on the Chosen One's tongue, and endless jabs at the kung fu genre become involved in what is basically a big-screen episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Kung Pow: Enter the Fist includes two kinds of jokes: the loud, obvious ones that get nary a laugh (most specifically the cow fight you've seen in the ads), and the insane, subtle references which work like a charm. Oedekerk's re-dubbing could have turned into a tiresome gimmick, but every time a character spoke in a goofy voice (namely the Chinese maiden who adds "Ooo-wee-oo" to the end of every sentence), I laughed uproariously at the sheer inventiveness of it all. The entire film could have fallen into a predictable pattern of "goofy voice-bad fight scene, rinse and repeat." And yet somehow, Oedekerk keeps the material fresh and ferociously funny. Some jokes I can't even describe, because to absorb their full impact, you really have to see them. Other comedic jabs include various insertions of modern touches (a sign for Hooters in a dojo, one character asking for a Radio Shack, etc.), some stupid and inexplicably hilarious lines (most of which stem from "Betty"), and the individual jabs at the kung fu genre itself.
The film's best moments of humor derive from deliberate over-usage of the zoom lense, its cheesy villain, and the fight scenes -- which mainly require Oedekerk, looking very much like Bruce Lee's Caucasian double, to spend ridiculous amounts of time in the air and to punch perfect holes into the bodies of his foes. It's too bad that along with hilarious jabs at martial arts flicks, there's also some corny material about French aliens and fighting cows (hasn't the Matrix spoof been done enough?).
Parody may be one of the most difficult genres to nail down just right, but Oedekerk seems to have almost everything under under control in his spoof of kung-fu movies -- some of which are unintentionally hilarious enough on their own.
MY RATING: *** (out of ****)
(Released by 20th Century Fox and rated "PG-13" for comic violence, crude and sexual humor.)
Review also posted on www.ajhakari.com.