Replacing football with basketball, Kung Fu Dunk is Kevin Chu's latest cinematic showpiece. You probably haven’t heard of him, and there’s a really good reason for that. His movies are rubbish. Kung Fu Dunk comes complete with action choreography from the team behind Shaolin Soccer, Curse Of The Golden Flower and House Of Flying Daggers. The cast is pretty darn impressive too. Not only do we have Eric Tsang and Jay Chou competing for our attention, the ever-adorable Charlene Choi makes an appearance in pigtails and glasses. Always a good thing in my book, and believe me, she's never looked better than she does here.
Fang Shi-Jie spends most of his time perfecting ancient skills in the local martial arts school, at least until he’s kicked out for causing mayhem at a local bar. His ‘talents’ are used and abused by local conman Zhen Li (Eric Tsang), and it’s not long before he finds himself shooting hoops on the basketball court. But despite his incredible abilities, he faces the challenge of fitting in with his envious team-mates, while attempting to impress the girl of his dreams and find the long lost parents who left him orphaned as a baby.
To be quite frank, Kung Fu Dunk is a bit of a mess. The effects are stunning at times, they look even better in hi-def, but the cast deserve much better than this. Choi is wasted as Fang Shi-Jie’s love interest; the almost angelic Lily doesn’t even get a look in; for some bizarre reason, Chu is more concerned with the relationship between Chou’s Fang and Tsang’s Zhen Li. Who’s bright idea was that? Beautiful young girl or aging comedy sidekick… hello!?!
The problem is, Kung Fu Dunk wants to be Shaolin Soccer so much it forgets what made Stephen Chow’s movie so special in the first place. Shaolin Soccer came with warmth and charm. Kung Fu Dunk has a sprinkling of comedic outbursts, but you won't find anything approaching charm. Chou does well, to be fair, making for a very likeable lead, but the rest of the movie falls flat on its face. The basketball sequences lack any sense of realism, which is a criticism you could also level at Shaolin Soccer, because let's face it, that was hardly a realistic take on the beautiful game. But at least the rules and regulations were set out from the start. There wasn't any.
Kung Fu Dunk fails to incorporate any sense of internal logic, martial arts skills are rarely used, and rules are made up as they go along. The action on court lacks any kind of dramatic tension, and the over enthusiastic score reaches for sentiment but comes away clutching awkward fidgeting. Do I really want song words to flash up on the screen when I’m trying to enjoy one of the few action highlights of the movie? I’m not going to mention the orphaned child nonsense that keeps cropping up. Never has a major plotline felt more like an afterthought. Why waste your time on plot arcs and character development when you can fill the screen with romantic dinner scenes between two grown men playing at being father and son? It’s kind of creepy for the most part.
Kung Fu Dunk misses the hoop completely. Chou is not to blame. Neither are the rest of the cast, but quite what director Chu had in mind remains a mystery. If it’s awkward romance, misjudged sentiment, and a complete waste of pigtails you're after, look no further, this is just what the doctor ordered. There are moments of joy to be found, especially Chou’s winning performance, but if it’s quality film-making you seek, Shaolin Soccer is also available. When it comes to high-kicking action comedy, Chow is still the mein man. AW