Starring Donnie Yen. Rated PG.
To truly get a handle on Kung Fu Killer’s stubborn refusal to add anything new to the chop-socky genre, start with the film’s end credits. Two seconds after things have faded to black, we see the words “The producers wish to dedicate the film to…” followed by quick clips spotlighting nearly every extra in the movie.
The visual cheat sheet operates as an extended tribute to the giants of Asian martial-arts films. The guy eating at a food stall is Raymond Chow, Golden Harvest founder and guiding light to Bruce Lee. The wide-eyed truck driver is fabled stuntman Bruce Law, whose credits include John Woo’s The Killer. And that’s just the tip of Cameo Mountain.
That’s important for understanding what Kung Fu Killer is, as opposed to what it isn’t. Forget a genre-splicing, ADD–generation make-over à la Kung Fu Hustle. Instead, we get a tribute to the genre that ruled Hong Kong cinema in the ’70s. This is martial-arts moviemaking for purists, the emphasis on speed-fuelled combat between fighters for whom honour trumps all.
The idea of returning to battle sparks an internal struggle for Hahou Mo, played with a sense of gentle soul-searching by Chinese martial-arts legend Donnie Yen. Kung Fu Killer opens with Mo turning himself in to police after killing an opponent. Three years later, he’s behind bars—and taking on 17 inmates at a time—when a serial killer pops up in Hong Kong. Said killer (a deliciously unbalanced Wang Baoqiang) is bumping off top martial artists.
Female detective Luk Yuen-Sum (a hard-boiled Charlie Yeung) decides to spring Mo from jail and get him on the case.
Cue extended battles on mammoth art installations and duels to the death with metal, bamboo, and wooden poles. Hong Kong looks magical as the backdrop for all the mayhem, director Teddy Chan loading the film with neon-drenched alleys, laundry-laden rooftops, and panoramic harbour shots. And that—along with the meticulously choreographed fight scenes—compensates for a clunky, tension-free plot.
And what fights they are, with the climactic battle exhilarating enough to make you overlook the fact that it’s utterly implausible. Unless, that is, you come from a world populated by Dion Lam, Kirk Wong, Bun Yuen, and more, all of whom you’ll spot, with some end-credits help, in this satisfyingly old-school love letter.