Kung Fu Jungle
The latest shot of martial art-drenaline out of Hong Kong comes in the form of Teddy Chan’s cat-and-mouse action thriller Kung Fu Jungle. Anchored by the ever dependable Donnie Yen (Ip Man) the film follows imprisoned martial arts master Ha Hou Mo (Yen) who negotiates his release from prison to assist the Hong Kong police in tracking down a serial killer who appears to be obsessed with top level martial artists.
The story crosses in and out of Hong Kong and over to Mainland China making for a diverse set of locations as the narrative steps along a fairly linear path, taking us from prison cells to art museums, film sets to riverside shanties. If not breaking any new ground Kung Fu Jungle’s premise is smart enough to string out a number of specialised technique, one-on-one fights within a thriller structure that makes sense and even springs the odd surprise. In this way the film gets to enjoy its modern setting whilst also harking back to more historic wuxia flavoured fighting styles including use of traditional weapons such as the sword and longstaff. Plus the fight sequences are pretty kick ass. Action choreography, stunt work, and cinematography all measure up to high Hong Kong standards combined with acting talent who can definitely throw down.
Yen brings a kind of calm purposefulness to the Ha Hou Mou character and yet there is an underlying sense of buried arrogance which adds a darkness and complexity to what might otherwise have been quite a plain ‘reticent hero’ type. Ha’s demeanour both contrasts and complements the film’s twisted antagonist Fung Yu-Sau who, despite a little OTT characterisation in the writing, is played with a pleasingly off-kilter energy by Baoqiang Wang (who some might recognise from Jia Zhangke’s A Touch of Sin). The central cast is rounded with a couple of strong female support roles by Charlie Yeung as the very capable Detective Luk Yuen-Sum who is running the police hunt and is responsible for managing Ha and Bing (Michelle) Bai as Ha’s protégé/lover Sinn Ying who likewise displays a masterful proficiency in martial combat.
Ha and Fung each fill duals roles of hunter and hunted seeming to find balance in the rhythms of physical battle. Consequently the big final-boss showdown between the two feels both earned and believably intense with a full range of skills—physical and cinematic—employed for a mostly satisfying ending. I think the filmmakers could have played more with the darker undercurrents in Ha Hou Mo’s character as hinted throughout the story and directly addressed (to a small degree) in his final act dialogue with Fung Yu-Sau. Regardless, Kung Fu Jungle makes for an entertaining addition to the compendium of Hong Kong action cinema and proves a pulse quickening martial arts ride.
IN CINEMAS Thursday, 30th Oct 2014.
Rating: R13 Violence.