By Daniel Barnes
*Opens today in San Francisco, Daly City and San Jose.
I honestly have no idea what to call this Hong Kong action epic about a serial killer who targets martial arts masters. The IMDB page and all of the advance press material refer to it as Kung Fu Killer. However, the onscreen title and the film’s Letterboxd page identify it as Kung Fu Jungle.
By any name, it’s an absolute blast, a frenzied fight film steeped in the history of martial arts movies, and a genre-hopper that borrows elements from sources as diverse as Silence of the Lambs and gunslinger westerns. In a charismatic lead performance, Donnie Yen plays Hahou Mo, a seemingly reformed ex-kung fu guru quietly serving time for murder.
When a disabled killer starts offing his old associates, Hahou assists the police in tracking him down, but both Hahou and the killer appear to hold secret motives. Kung Fu [Whatever] makes a big deal about honoring the masters of martial arts cinema, which sets a high bar that director Teddy Chan and his fight choreographers and performers manage to meet.
One dizzily and intricately conceived hand-to-hand combat sequence follows another. A fight atop a gigantic skeleton, a deathmatch on a film set, not to mention audacious and effective use of flash-forwards and flashbacks in the grappler sequence. The detective angle to the story starts as a neat twist on the genre. Unfortunately, it ends up needlessly bloating the film, and serves to delay the inevitable big fight finish.
However, when that big fight arrives, in the middle of a busy freeway, with Hahou and the killer crawling between cars and underneath roaring semis: holy shit.