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Kung Fu Hip Hop

Kung Fu Hip Hop

Kung Fu Hip Hop
: It's not a horror film. Maybe.

AKA: Kung Fu Pop
Chinese: 精舞門
Year: 2008
Director: Fu Huayang
Writer: Ning Cai-Shen
Cast: Fan Bing-Bing, Jordan Chan Siu-Chun, Nam Hyun-Joon, Chen Kuan-Tai, Wang Yue, Gao Min, Yang Yang, Pan Xiaoting, Xing Aowei
The Skinny: As silly as one would expect it to be, Kung Fu Hip Hop is a cheesy cringe fest that still entertains, thanks to various unintentional circumstances that would doom most productions. Not a quality film, but it's got plenty to talk about. The dancing isn't half-bad, either.
by Kozo:

Add kung fu to anything and it's going to kick ass. At least, that's the likely reasoning behind the titles of Kung Fu Dunk, Kung Fu Tea, and now Kung Fu Hip Hop, the inspirational street dance film starring Fan Bing-Bing and Jordan Chan. Originally titled Kung Fu Pop in China - but possibly re-titled for Hong Kong because the China name sounds like a soft drink - Kung Fu Hip Hop is the touching story of a man, a woman, and how they both dare to dream. In her case, she dares to feel the beat, find her true love, and resurrect her fingers - whatever that means. In his case, he dares to honor his grandfather's kung fu, admit that he actually likes to dance, plus pay his sister's medical bills and celebrate his youth despite pushing forty years of age (Jordan Chan, we're talking about you). The obstacle: a Korean guy. Truly, Kung Fu Hip Hop has instant classic written all over it.

After establishing art-house cred in Lost in Beijing, Fan Bing-Bing goes blindingly commercial as Tina, a gorgeous DJ who wears fab earmuffs and has a mega-huge subwoofer in the back of her mini-car. She works the vinyl at a trendy dance club for local sensation Shaoxiong (played by Korean entertainer Poppin Hyun Joon), whose dance skills and poser gestures are second to none. However, her fingers feel tired of the usual record scratching, and she longs for something to come along and reenergize her digits. Tina gets her wish when she spies the dope dance skills of garage mechanic and part-time street hawker Chu Dong (Jordan Chan), who hears her beats and can’t help himself. Without warning, he busts out a few moves and impresses the dance club crowd, who get a load of his skills but aren't sure who he is. However, Tina must find him, as she discovers that watching Chu Dong's gyrations makes her fingers feel "resurrected". Um, yeah.

Chu Dong has bigger issues, though. His sister Ya Ya (Wang Yue) is partially blind due to some unnamed mental disease, and he has to care of her. Unfortunately, she takes a hilarious tumble into a ditch, whereupon she breaks a leg AND her brain malfunction becomes life-threatening. Putting that egregiously melodramatic subplot aside, there's only one way that Chu Dong can make the money required for her operation. That's right, he has to participate in a dance competition! At Tina's urgings, Chu Dong and his garage pals (played by China dance group Kung Fu Pop) put their moves to the test. However, Shaoxiong and his backers aren't too happy by this new competition from Chu Dong's group, dubbed "Kung Fu Kid" for their ability to combine the latest street moves with kung-fu. Where is this headed? Duh, towards a climactic dance-off, where both sides dance their asses off while also trying to achieve their noble dreams. Can the audience get their fill of kick-ass dancing without puking from the syrupy inspirational messages? Yes they can, but the ability to enjoy crap is absolutely necessary.

Kung Fu Hip Hop is a far cry from quality filmmaking, as its cheesy drama, amateurish direction, and nonexistent acting make this a cringe fest for the ages. Director Fu Huayang's idea of touching filmmaking is to feature his actors popping to the required beat while layering on a sappy power ballad over the dance music. The result: eyes-widening disbelief, if not hives. Add to this some completely unnecessary subplots, ridiculous plot development, and drama that's more laughable than it is dramatic, and you have a solid candidate for "so bad it's good" status. The film could have reached an even more rarefied air of unintentional hilarity had they dressed up the production with even more faux hipness, but as it is, audiences get drab Beijing streets with some dull splashes of color. The contrast makes the film feel even cheaper than it probably is, and even hurts its ability to become the camp classic the audience really deserves. To qualify for exceptional camp, you need bigger, brighter, and badder production design than Kung Fu Hip Hop proffers.

Not that it truly matters, because Kung Fu Hip Hop has other goals, namely pride and promotion. It's got pride, thanks to numerous pro-China references, plus the appearance of various Chinese Olympic athletes, who make cameos because of that dinky thing happening in Beijing called the 2008 Olympics. The athletes show up to give Kung Fu Kid quick lessons, using their Olympic talents to presumably enhance KFK's dancing prowess. That appearance qualifies as promotion too, but they're upstaged by other promotions, most notably for Pepsi. Cans of Pepsi get massive close-ups, and are popped open in orgasmic fashion during some dance numbers. Providing the audience with sexual metaphors was likely not on the filmmaker's minds (remember: China approves of this movie), but don't we all need some soul-energizing pizzazz via brand-name carbonated explosions? Sure we do! The fine people behind Kung Fu Hip Hop have our backs.

Obviously, Kung Fu Hip Hop is a "special" film, and should delight anyone who enjoys cheesy cinema with low pretensions. The film's inspirational message does portend some sort of meaning, but it's handled in such a clichéd and perfunctory manner that it ultimately becomes an asset, raising the unintentional hilarity factor until the film practically qualifies as something worth recommending. Also classic: the film's English subtitles, which include inspired translations like, "Go for the competition! You're a natural born dancer," and the sure-to-be-repeated, "Yes, hot girl." Most memorably, the word "Sup" is used in place of "Yes", "No", "Yeah", and probably even "Hey! Turn off the lights in the bathroom!" The script was credited to "dramaturgist" Ning Cai-Shen, and the film also boasts a "Director of Editor" and possibly even a "Director of Director". By the way, the dance choreographer is named Ice Cream. I could go on forever.

Engrish-bashing aside, Kung Fu Hip Hop is a well-meaning effort, and is so harmless that slamming it for its lack of filmmaking cred would be incredibly harsh. Also, the dancing is really quite good, and fans of Poppin Hyun Joon should be happy. The Korean singer-dancer has impressive skills and easily upstages his onscreen rivals. As Chu Dong, the not-quite-ageless Jordan Chan is well-suited for this role because of his dance background - though during his more radical moves he clearly has a dance double. There's even some fighting thrown in. Shaw Brothers veteran Chen Kuan-Tai plays Chu Dong's uncle, who shows up conveniently whenever some young whippersnapper needs a spanking. Chen demonstrates that he still has some moves at his advanced age, though the part where he cracks peanut shells in his fist is clearly CG-assisted. But it's just another small bonus in the crazy, crappy piñata that is Kung Fu Hip Hop. Let's see, in addition to stylin' street dance, multiple kung-fu styles, funny earmuffs, a female dancing duo called "The Rabbit Girls", Pepsi product placement, a posh Fan Bing-Bing, and more herky-jerky popping than you'll ever want, Kung Fu Hip Hop has computer-generated peanuts. Wow, this movie has everything. Someone pinch me. (Kozo 2008)



DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Kam & Ronson
Mandarin and Cantonese Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese subtitles

image credit: Tianjin Film Studio Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen