KUNG FU KILLER (2008)
In this two-part mini-series, an elderly Caucasian monk named White Crane (David Carradine) returns to his monastery after wandering the world for two decades to spend the rest of his days. But soon after he returns, an army battalion under the rule of criminal mastermind Khan sweeps into the monastery and systematically wipe out most of monks. White Crane vows to take revenge and soon finds himself in Shanghai, where he actually becomes the bodyguard of Khan in order to get close to him, and learns of Khan’s plan in creating a gas that will kill countless thousands.
White Crane also meets up with Jane (Darryl Hannah), a singer from Brooklyn who is now the main attraction at a local bar, and whose brother coincidentally is the scientist who is being forced to work on Khan’s death gas. When Khan is finally ready to test his new gas, White Crane sees this as the moment to show his true allegiance, and strikes with vengeance in his heart and in his fists! Meanwhile, back at the monastery which is slowly being rebuilt, White Crane is about to discover that there is one in the shadows who has been thirsting for his own revenge.
Originally aired on Spike TV August 17th and 18th as part of the network’s Spike Guy Movies original programming umbrella, this made-for-TV mini-series reunites KILL BILL co-stars Carradine and Hannah for a martial arts revenge romp through early 20th century China. Though it has been dubbed a mini-series, each night’s broadcast feels very much likes its own movie, as if the original and the sequel were merely filmed back-to-back and subsequently broadcasted as such. There is no cliffhanger or “to be continued” at the end of Part One, which wraps itself up with a nice little bow before letting the credits role, while the opening of Part Two simply just starts like any other sequel.
David Carradine slips easily back into his controlled martial arts persona that made him a star in the seventies television series "Kung Fu" and later in KILL BILL, but try as he may, can’t quite summon the fully dynamic energy needed for such a performance, which can be forgiven to a point being as the man is pushing seventy-two years. Much of his dialogue feels like its been pulled from a fortune cookie, while his fight choreography is mostly reduced to him blocking an attacker’s strike, and then reacting with a punch. Carradine can still whip up some great screen charisma though, and he seem genuinely excited to be in the movie, while the movie is likewise genuinely excited to have him as a star.
However, the same can not be said for Darryl Hannah, who is in this purely for her connection to Carradine. Hannah has trouble getting through her songs and with her chiseled jaw line looks more like a drag queen during her nightclub dance numbers rather than the object of desire the character is supposed to be. Hannah looks bored half the time, and probably longs to be holding a sword again, rather than be transformed into a subplot device and a marketing ploy.
What the film may lack in the acting chops, including some questionable English speaking dialogue from the almost exclusively Chinese cast (we’ll just leave alone the fact that all the peasants inherently can speak fluent English) it more than makes up for in sheer devastation and literally bone-crushing violence. It is surprising just how much Spike TV lets through over the airwaves, cable or no cable. Under the choreography of Hero stuntman Feng Shi and Wang Jun Kang, limbs are severed, soldiers are beheaded and poor monks are blown up by the military’s cannons, with copious amounts of blood spraying everywhere. Carradine is of course given a few of most memorable blows, including a palm attack that forces a soldier’s spine out of their back.
KUNG FU KILLER, whose name recalls the rather generic retitling of many an English dubbed martial arts film throughout the seventies and eighties, is really geared toward this exact audience. It is not really meant as a slight towards them, but Spike TV knows their target demographic and this is nothing more than giving the masses what they want. It is certainly not an homage to this era, but there is the feeling that director Philip Spink is trying to recapture the energy of those Saturday afternoon television broadcasts. And on that note Spink just squeaks by with a success.