Cartoonist Fei (Ashin) has been in love with the beautiful Bao’er (Madina) since college. Now working in the same office, he finds a rival in his handsome and rich boss (Zhang) and his feelings of inadequacy skyrocket.
Creating a comic where four legendary martial arts masters time travel into the future, he is ecstatic to find that it has come true; Wong Fei Hung (Man), Huo Yuan Jia (On), Ip Man (To), and Chen Zhen (Chan) are now lost in time and apparently the only way back is to help Fei win the girl of his dreams!
Prolific director Jeffrey Lau directs this oddball martial arts comedy featuring some familiar faces, heavily stylized martial arts, and some uneven humor for a movie that doesn’t really know what it wants to be and whose story would probably have been better told as a comic from which the protagonist’s inspiration was born.
In his debut feature, Taiwanese musician Ashin does his best Gabriel Wong impression, complete with high pitched wail and dorky glasses. A superstar in his own right he definitely goes for the lowest common denominator and his appearances are grating at best.
The adorably doe-eyed Madina is charming enough but the film doesn’t really give her a chance to do as much as she is able in her television drama series. A shame, since she’s quite good in the bits of the Chinese drama Ice Fantasy in which I have seen.
The martial artists leads; Man, On, Chan, and To ultimately pretty much react as a single entity. Man gets the most to do with a side thread about his beloved Aunt 13 having an affair. On’s Huo and Chan’s Chen pull double time as a comedy duo doing slapstick. To, for his part, keeps things mostly straight, though his Ip does get swept up in the shenanigans of the rest of his crew.
With such talent as these legendary characters, you’d expect the action to be good at least right?
Unfortunately aside from a stunt double driven brawl between Man’s Wong and the surprisingly welcome appearance by a whimsically coiffed Bruce Leung. Aside from a Wong Kar Wai parody opening scene and small fairly engaging gang fight that plays a little too heavy on the humor early on, there are actually fairly limited actual martial arts exchanges.
The finale definitely goes off the deep end with a big boss type situational fight but it’s cartoony and way too much like Corey Yuen’s Dead or Alive for my taste.
Immediately what came to mind, 20 minutes into the film, was the infamous 1993 Wong Jing film Future Cops. Both films follow the same beats and while they are both ridiculous in equal measure, Kung Fu League just doesn’t have the energy of that early 90’s guilty pleasure.
In the end, Kung Fu League is a film that I don’t really know the intended audience. Featuring characters that are generally portrayed with a certain amount of seriousness, even by some of the same actors in this film, it was just a tonal miss for me.
The premise alone gives you an idea of what to expect, but the lack of urgency of fun hurts the film in too many ways. Unfortunately, Kung Fu League just doesn’t deliver.
A previous version of this review can be read along with a variety of reviews by Cesar Alejandro Jr. at Filmsmash.com.