It’s the last five minutes of the second half. Your team is down by three. There’s no stopping your ruthless opponents. You take the shot from the free-throw line.
You miss. All hope is lost. The game is done.
But wait, your kung fu master taught you how to control time. Turn back the clock! “Kung Fu Dunk,” a Chinese sports comedy made by Taiwanese director Chu Yin-Ping, plays this scenario with an infectious self-awareness.
It begins with a homeless man waking up to a crying baby at his feet. As any self-respecting transient would do, he takes the child to a martial arts school, and from then on, the boy learns the ways of qi gong and kung fu. This boy grows into star pupil Fang Shi Jie (Jay Chou, “The Green Hornet”) who meets Zhen Li (Eric Tsang, “Infernal Affairs”).
After seeing Fang throwing things into a trash can with immaculate accuracy, Li devises a money-making scheme: to make Fang a famous basketball player in search of his parents.
This movie is more flash than substance, but it’s a popcorn movie. It’s entertainment for entertainment’s sake, and it’s totally fine in that place. It’s a crowd pleaser to the extreme. A strange darkness undercuts the comedy for the first half, but all that is undone quickly, and I was grinning from ear-to-ear.
Now, it’s not a “good” movie, but it’s not bad either. Jay Chou has almost no acting chops. His face is expressionless, and if it weren’t for the artificial tears, the more emotional scenes would fall flat. The dialogue is often awkward and forced: “Smash your shin, stop your blood flow. It’s too late now to use qi gong!” an antagonist screams in the final game.
It’s worth noting also that the subtitles omit words often and rearrange syntax. It’s an easy visual hurdle to jump over, but it can be distracting.
Chou’s physical presence makes up for this. The bar fight scene is fantastic. Extremely well-choreographed and shot with comparatively long takes, it’s reminiscent of “Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior.” While Chou doesn’t have Tony Jaa’s physical prowess, he holds these scenes together effortlessly. But these scenes are so heavy on slow-motion that coming back into real time feels like a breath of fresh air.
Outside of the fight scenes, the special effects and production values are crisp. The kung fu master manipulating water and time and the time traveling scenes stand out in particular.
For all of its over-the-top flavor, some scenes are just bland. The early basketball games especially fall short. Sometimes these scenes just don’t go far enough and the disappointment mounts quickly. “Kung-Fu Dunk” never strives to strike out on its own. It proudly wears Stephen Chow’s “Shaolin Soccer” and Yudai Yamaguchi’s “Battlefield Baseball” on its Jordans.
“Kung Fu Dunk” is a popcorn flick through-and-through, so don’t come in expecting much more. Take the ridiculousness at surface value and you’ll have a good time, but look any deeper than that and the cracks start to show.