A vicious killer stalks the streets of Hong Kong, methodically executing top martial arts competitors. Xia (Donnie Yen), a convicted killer and kung fu expert, offers to help police find the killer and put him behind bars – in return for his own freedom. The killer eludes them again and again, taunting the cops - and Xia, his new target - to discover his next moves. Xia refuses to play his lethal game…until the killer threatens the woman he loves most.
Dozens of kung fu and martial arts flicks are made every year either in the United States or in the foreign markets. There's just something awesome about the display of physical ability and athleticism of these action movie stars as they rain down their fists of fury. Unfortunately because this is a genre of filmmaking that is popular, there are a number of movies that just are not worth the time they take to film - let alone watch. Thankfully the Donny Yen starring action thriller 'Kung Fu Killer' not only is a thrilling movie from start to finish, but it actually sets up a decent reason for these guys to be pummeling each other in the first place.
Hahou Mo (Donnie Yen) is a man of honor and respect. He's quiet by nature and does what he can to lead an unassuming life - while he serves out a five-year prison term. Hahoa Mo was a martial arts instructor who maintained one of the best schools throughout all of Hong Kong. It was a place for masters of various techniques and skills to come together, collaborate, and further their studies. After a duel went bad and a man had died at Hahoa Mo's hand, he turned himself into the authorities. For three years, he's kept to himself in prison, maintaining his status as a model inmate while awaiting the end of his sentence. That is until he sees a news report of an odd murder that happened in the middle of a busy Hong Kong highway.
Detective Luk Yuen-Sum (Charlie Yeung) has a bizarre murder on her hands. A wrecked sports car lays in the middle of the road smashed to pieces and thirty yards away is the body of a man who appears to have been savagely beaten to death by someone using only their bare hands. Inside the car were large bags of cocaine and cash, but this wasn't a drug-related crime - if it had been the drugs and the money wouldn't still be at the scene. There is something more sinister at play and Hahoa Mo is the only one with the ability to help the police - only he has to get their attention first.
After being denied the ability to make a phone call to Detective Luk Yuen-Sum, Hahoa Mo takes on 17 members of the prison's leading gang single-handedly. After the beatings are finished and the broken bones are set, Hahoa Mo is finally able to meet face to face with the intrepid Detective. He tells her that her victim was a martial arts master, one of his former students and a close friend who was apparently killed by his own speciality. When the Detective doesn't believe him, Hahoa Mo gives her the names of her next possible victims. Sure enough, within days of their meeting, another body turns up having been savagely beaten to death. In order to catch the killer she's going to have to place her trust in Hahoa Mo, his abilities as a trained fighter and as someone who possibly knows more about this killer than he's letting on.
'Kung Fu Killer' may seem like a silly sounding flick, and it probably would be if it wasn't so well put together. Scripting, plotting, pacing and of course, the action choreography is absolutely top notch. If you're going to break down the plot mechanics, it's very similar to something along the lines of 'Virtuosity' meets 'Dexter' but with a lot more kung fu and a much tighter story premise. Writer and Director Teddy Chan pulls together just enough plot elements to serve the setups for the fights without making the film seems too big or self-indulgent. Donnie Yen once again proves his abilities as one of the best martial arts action stars working today and this film is a perfect setup to showcase his abilities. Part of me wants to believe that if these rumors of Yen possible starring in one of the upcoming 'Star Wars' films are true, it's because someone at Lucasfilm saw 'Kung Fu Killer' or either of the 'Ip Man' films.
The primary aspect that helps this film be so enjoyable is that every fight looks and feels different from the last. As the Killer (played amazingly well by Baoqiang Wang) encounters his next victim, the fight is in a completely different style and the cinematography adjusts to make the fights more visceral and impactful. If the fighting style features more leaps and kicks, the camera keeps a distance allowing the audience to appreciate the full breadth of the fighters' abilities. When the Killer encounters a fighter who specializes in grappling or close combat fighting techniques, the camera is tight on the actors making every hit look and feel that much more painful.
Ever since my Dad first showed me Bruce Lee's 'The Big Boss' I've had a love for martial arts flicks. Sure I admit that I got a little distracted when Steven Seagal arrived on the scene, but then I think everyone was at the time. Thankfully I came back around to the good stuff. This modern era of martial arts genre films has been pretty fantastic in my opinion. While not every movie that comes out may be a winner, the ones that succeed stand out in a big way. 'Kung Fu Killer' is one of those simple set up movies that executes on its premise and lives up to its promise for some fast and visceral entertainment.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Kung Fu Killer' arrives on Blu-ray from Well Go USA and is pressed on a Region A locked BD25 disc. Housed in a standard case with slip cover, the disc opens to a slew of other Well Go USA releases including a very simple teaser for 'Ip Man 3' which apparently also stars Mike Tyson? Donnie Yen VS Mike Tyson - should be interesting!
'Kung Fu Killer' earns big marks for having an impressively detailed and colorful 1080p 2.35:1 transfer. To be honest and straightforward, this is really a near flawless image. Detail only ever falters when there is some slight color grading here and there, but those moments are very few, far between, and only really noticeable if you're straining to find faults in the image quality. I mention them only because they're there, but they're hardly a problem. Most of this film is fairly brightly lit so there is always something to see and appreciate whether it's the costuming or the detailed set design. Blacks are nice and inky with some strong shadow separation leading to a striking sense of three-dimensional depth. If there is a "flaw" to be had for this transfer it is that the image is of such a quality that it makes some sticky CGI effects that didn't blend very well stand out. There's a shot for instance where the Killer knocks a guy out of a window onto an old electric sign and it is kind of a giggle-inducing moment. That really shouldn't be a fault of the image quality and more of a production failing for not rendering the effect at a higher resolution. Even with the small quibbles, I'm still giving this a full five star grade, there isn't any detectable banding, edge enhancement or any other kind of compression artifact to knock this score for.
With a strong Cantonese DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio track 'Kung Fu Killer' kicks this one out of the park. Imaging is a whirlwind of sound effects during the big action beats as all channels are engaged while keeping any dialogue that is spoken to the center channels so you never miss what is being said - if you're fluent in Cantonese that is. If you're like me and can't speak a word, the provided English Subtitle track is very good if maybe timed a bit too short for some of the heavier dialogue moments. For the most part, the track keeps to the midranges and lets the punches and kicks drop into the lower registers giving a lot of power and oomph to the track. Quieter moments also fair very well as there is plenty of background effects and atmospherics in play to keep the surrounds engaged without tripping over the dialogue. There is also an English dubbed DTS-HD-5.1 mix, but unless you're absolutely desperate, I'd strongly encourage you to keep away from this track. The effects are rendered well enough and there is some solid balance between dialogue, backgrounds, and music - but the dubbing is pretty silly sounding. None of the voices really fit the actors so the whole thing sounds more like a Steve Oedekerk spoof than a purposeful dubbing effort. Additionally there are Spanish and French dubbing mixes for those so inclined.
Making Of: (SD 10:14) Sadly this is where this disc fails. This feature is a series of four short featurettes that cover Fight To The Top, Spirit of Kung Fu, The Final Duel, and Legendary Action Directors. They're fun little bits of info, but they're hardly in-depth and aren't nearly long enough to be considered very informative.
Trailer: (HD 1:55) A pretty basic trailer that does a solid job of teasing the big action beats without giving away the whole show.
'Kung Fu Killer' from Well Go USA is one heck of a great Blu-ray release. The movie is incredibly entertaining and genre fans should be more than happy to add it to their collections. The action is fast, visceral, and engaging from start to finish. With an absolutely first-rate A/V presentation, the only "failing" of this disc is that it falls more than a bit short on the extra features front. Had this had some more in-depth extras I'd be ranking it as a must own. As it stands, it's very highly recommended, because the image quality is fantastic, the audio hits all the right notes, and the movie itself is an absolute blast.