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Saturday, January 25, 2014

KUNG FU JOE -- DVD review by porfle

Normal people can look at a movie like KUNG FU JOE (2009) and immediately recognize how stupid and silly it is.  I don't know how they do it but they can.  They can also gauge how low the budget is at a single glance, thus saving themselves from wasting time on something which lacks the minimum level of production values they demand for their viewing pleasure and, thus, is worthless.

And then there are people like me, for whom movies like KUNG FU JOE are made.  One minute into it and I was already thinking, "How wonderfully stupid and silly this is!  And whoa, check out how good they made it look on such a low budget!  Why, this is way better than GONE WITH THE WIND."

Okay, that last part may have been a slight exaggeration.  Still, I enjoyed this movie very much right from the opening credits, which feature Kung Fu Joe (Zak VanWinkle) strutting his stuff down an alleyway like something out of a 70s white-sploitation flick while Darius Holbert's delightfully retro musical score sets the mood. 

Joe is a private dick who's a sex machine to all the chicks, including Miss Gittes (the gorgeous Victoria Maurette of LEFT FOR DEAD and THE THEATER BIZARRE), a femme fatale who really needs him to find someone for her because, well, I didn't really pay attention to the plot because it neither made much sense nor was important to me in any way.  Their loopy dialogue and odd behavior during her first visit to Joe's office lets us know that he's totally worthless as a detective while giving us an indication of just how nutty writer-director Glen Barry (BULLETFACE) can be when he wants to.

The clueless Joe teams up with an old love-hate pal from his past,  an equally-clueless police detective (Jeremy Parrish as "The Detective") who happens to be working on a related case. This mismatched crimefighting duo continue to engage in ridiculous dialogue which allows their extreme stupidity free and unfettered expression.  Doughnuts figure importantly in the case, so naturally they find themselves beating up a pastry chef for information. 

The term "Soylent Green" is invoked; doughnuts filled with the vile chemical are selling like hotcakes and turning ordinary citizens into slaves for a mysterious mad doctor whose hench-persons include a hideous female hunchback, a musclebound freak with a giant flower pot for a head, and a French guy who was supposed to be a Bruce Lee clone but the hunchback used the wrong brain during the operation.  The Detective, being a cop, naturally gets hooked on the tainted doughnuts and becomes one of the mad doctor's mindnumbed robots.

Action, you want, and violence?  KUNG FU JOE has them up to here (I'm holding my hand up to my Adam's apple) but they're stupid action and violence.  One scene finds Joe and the detective surrounded by ninjas in the forest, whom Joe defeats without any proper choreography whatsoever.  In fact, he barely moves, that's how good he is.  It's kind of like one of those recent Steven Seagal movies where he beats guys up by moving his arm up and down. 

There's a bad attempt at some of that "speed-up/slow-down" editing like in 300 which is funny because it's so bad, just like everything else in this movie.  Homages to other  action classics abound, such as when Joe confronts the mad doctor's hench-creeps as they terrorize a store clerk.  "I don't think it's nice,  you laughin'," Joe intones.  "My afro doesn't think it's nice, either.  Gives it the strange idea that you're laughin' at it." 

I should mention Joe's afro,  which is part of his Samson-like power.  (He also drives an Afro Romeo.)  As you might guess, he gets a forced haircut during the film's most heartwrenching scene and must struggle back to his former strength by learning pirate kung fu.  From a pirate.  A pirate who has a chicken instead of a parrot.  Joe will know that he's ready to get back into action when he can beat the chicken--at chess.  This is one of the film's most inspiring sequences.

I'm not going to spoil any more of the story for you because I have a TV dinner in the oven and it's almost done.  I will say that Glen Berry's low-budget filmmaking fu is strong, and his stars VanWinkle and Parrish are so exquisitely deadpan that you could use their faces to iron shirts.  Victoria Maurette is, of course, about a hundred times more enchanting than any movie she's ever been in.  The other actors are pretty good, especially this one guy who plays, like, five or ten different characters.  The film's exciting, suspenseful climax in the mad doctor's lair will have you on the edge of your seat.  Ehh.

The DVD from Indican Pictures is in 1.33:1 anamorphic widescreen.  I know that because it says so on Amazon.  I'm not sure exactly what kind of sound it has except that it sounded pretty good.  No subtitles because the world doesn't really care all that much about how bad my hearing is.  Extras include a trailer, a behind-the-scenes featurette,  previews for other Indican releases,  and a laidback commentary track with Berry and VanWinkle.  There are also some bloopers during the closing credits.

Remember how, way back in the first paragraph, I came right out and told you how stupid and silly KUNG FU JOE is?  That was to cover my ass with normal people who would say things like "I can't believe you gave this piece of (beep) a good review, you big, fat (beep)."  But if you like low-budget,  high-concept flicks that are just as willfully and sometimes hilariously silly as they can possibly get,  then you should enjoy KUNG FU JOE almost as much as the Hungry Man Salisbury Steak TV dinner I'm about to eat. 

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