5-Word 365 #260 – Kung Fu Dunk

I’ve decided, purely on a whim, that the next seven days here at 5-Word will be Sports Movie Week. For the first time since I started back in January I actually have the entire week’s schedule planned out in advance. Whether I can stick to that or not is a whole other ballgame.

Kung Fu Dunk

Bad movies need love too.

When unruly student Fang Shi Jie is kicked out of the kung fu school in Shanghai (judging by the skyline) where he has been raised since a baby, he is discovered tossing cans into a rubbish bin from 30ft by Zhen Wang Li. Seeing a potential goldmine Uncle Li, as he soon becomes known, gets Jie into the First University basketball team where he soon becomes a star. Soon trouble arrives in the shape of Fireball University, First’s evil rivals. Hilarity ensues. Also some basketball.

Being brutally objective about it for a minute, Kung Fu Dunk is not really a very good movie. The story has massive gaps; there are entire subplots that just appear and disappear at random; unnecessary twists pop out of nowhere; in short, it has problems. But despite all that, or maybe even partly because of it, it’s still an absolute shit-ton of fun.

Jay Chou (Kato to Seth Rogen’s Green Hornet) is known for not being the most expressive actor in the world. I’m sure there are times when that presents difficulty, but here it sort of works for the character. Jie is essentially a nonchalant young man who takes his kung fu and sporting prowess for granted the way we take walking down the street for granted. He’s generally a fairly laconic character though he does have moments when a flicker of emotion creeps up on him. Veteran actor Eric Tsang (probably best known in the West for the Infernal Affairs trilogy) makes up for Jie’s stoicism as Uncle Li, a whirlwind of energy who basically adopts Jie to use him as a cash cow – a fact that Li freely admits – but ends up forming quite a bond with the younger man.

“Dude, look. It’s up on my finger.” “Whatever man. How’s my hair?”

None of the other characters really get much time to do anything other than react to whatever new basketball magic Jie is doing on the court. The team captain’s sister Lily is presented as a love interest for Jie but nothing really comes of it besides a brief conversation or two and the occasional flirty glance. The most enjoyable moments involve Jie’s masters at the kung fu school, who come out to join him in the big game against Fireball after the rest of the First team is injured. What follows is a bit like Shaolin Soccer-lite, as Jie and the masters use kung fu magic to screw with the game and beat the crap out of Fireball.

Director Chu Yin-Ping has a fairly straight-forward style visually. There is really nothing in the way of artistic flourishes except in some flashback moments where everything is desaturated into black-and-white except for the key character in the shot, who remains in colour. This is used sparingly though, and not quite often enough to become tiresome. The action is staged quite well, particularly a fight scene in the first act after Jie and Li first meet and end up at a local nightclub to hustle some money at darts.

How long can he keep the ball spinning on his finger like that? IT’S SO TERRIBLY EXCITING!

The version I watched on Netflix today is in Cantonese with English subtitles, and the subtitler must be applauded for going the extra mile and covering the lyrics to the songs on the soundtrack as well, leading to some exceptional – if perhaps unintended – comedy moments. Let’s just say that some sentiments just don’t translate very well. Kung Fu Dunk is probably best enjoyed with a group of like-minded individuals. There are probably one or two good drinking games in these ninety minutes, if nothing else works for you.


  1. Drew · September 17, 2012

    I didn’t watch this one, but the way you described it makes it sound like Initial D, except with basketball. Kinda like how Days of Thunder was Top Gun with cars, same lead actor and story beats.

  2. Pingback: 5-Word 365 #310 – The Green Hornet | 5-Word Movie Reviews

Go ahead, punk. Make my day.

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