The idea of the team-up film, bringing together figures or characters from wildly varying sources or storylines has long been a cinematic staple. While predominantly a Horror feature dating back to the numerous team-ups of Universal Studios characters ranging from The Wolf-Man, Frankenstein, Dracula, Abbott & Costello and more, lately the Action movie has started to capitalize on that with the tongue-in-cheek ‘Expendables’ films that reunited 80s stars in a new adventure. That formula is now tried with the kung-fu comedy genre as WellGo USA presents this Jeffery Lau-directed feature bringing together various martial arts heroes from Chinese folklore throughout the ages on Blu-Ray, DVD and digital on September 17.
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Working as a cartoonist, Fei Yingxiong (Ashin Shui) dreams of wooing his colleague Bao’er (Madina Mahmet) who he’s smitten with but is unable to win her over. After a failed encounter between the two, he becomes desperate and invokes the help of Wong Fei Hung, (Vincent Zhao), Huo Yuan Jia (Andy On), Chen Zhen (Chan Kwok Kwan) and Ip Man (Dennis To) from his comic book to help him. Realizing that they’re no match for the ruthless boss of the company that wants her for himself, they train him in their ways of true martial arts to help him win his confidence and their relationship together.
Overall, there isn’t much to like with ‘Kung Fu League.’ One of the best aspects is the celebrated comedy that comes throughout this with the film melding all the historical figures together. This one really generates some strong laughs with the idea of the heroes out of their element by being in modern times instead of their familiar settings, and almost all of that is from their initial meetup. Inexplicably landing on the set of a kung-fu movie, their attempts to figure out where they are and who everyone else is gets continually interrupted by the fanatical director attempting to sign the heroes to a movie contract. As well, with several other hilarious fish-out-of-water jokes and visual gags populated throughout their journey, this section of the film has a lot to like getting some decent laughs. However, the only other likable factor here is the action-packed finale which is all action featuring several big kung-fu brawls and battles that are at least engaging due to finally featuring something going on here. However, these are all that really work in the movie.
There are several detrimental flaws within ‘Kung Fu League.’ Almost all of that comes to the film’s inability to really define or describe its central premise of getting everyone together. Rather than get bogged down in the details of how the four of them came together, the film decides to simply have them exist in the modern world with no real connection to their arrival. How the wish made them travel through time is never explained, and the idea of the group departing just as easily as they arrived is glossed over with a shrug, leaving the main storyline frustrating and inconclusive. Moreover, they’re not needed at all as they never teach him kung-fu at all beyond a five-minute sequence that’s interrupted with cutaways to the promoter pimping the four martial artists for the upcoming tournament. As well, there’s nothing they teach him for the romantic subplot as Bao’er liked Yingxiong all along and get together without any outside influence. All told, the writing here by Huang Jianhong is quite suspect and subpar.
The other big problem is the atrocious and hilariously awful technical qualities. The film relies far too heavily on abysmal CGI way too often for scenes that have no need to be created in that process. A shot of Yingxiong walking through a glass window and the shards raining down around him as he walks away looks almost like a dream sequence before it appears to be in the real-world; such is the quality of the effects work here. The fighting is even worse, also featuring the gratuitous overuse of CGI to allow the performers to perform superhuman feats with a speed and intensity that normal humans can do. However, all it does is draw attention to what they’re doing because the CGI makes it obvious they’re not capable of performing it. Another big problem is the egregious and obvious wire-work for the fighters, bringing several rather obvious changes to the fighting style that looks fake and ridiculous where a person could maneuver that way unless they were on wires. These factors end up rendering the final fight to be a colossal disappointment as a result which lowers the film even more.
With a weak storyline, not enough action and utterly disappointing stuff once it does appear, overall ‘Kung Fu League’ doesn’t have much going for it leaving this a massively disappointing and unimpressive genre effort. There’s really only one group that will like this which are those that are the least discerning martial arts film fans, but most others who appreciate better-made films than this should avoid the film altogether.