Starring: Zhang Zhuang Pinko Izumi Nanami Fujimoto Ryan Fujita Juri Ueno
Running time: 98 min.
Reviewed by Matthew Hardstaff
The perfect children’s film must reach equilibrium between complete adolescent lunacy and a more mature, adult sensibility. It has to please both the children, and their parents. Very few films actually meet this balance. Osamu Tezuka, Walt Disney and more recently Pixar studio, became quite adept at creating stories mature enough for adults, with humour that could be enjoyed by groups of all ages. "Astroboy" is the pinnacle of this example (and hopefully the new film will live up to Tezuka’s vision). With "Kung Fu Kid" aka "Kanfu-kun", SFX guru Issei Oda strives to reach that balance. After creating visual effects for several notable films, mostly in the horror category, including Higuchinsky’s "Long Dream" and "Uzumaki", and "Tomie: Forbidden Fruit" (that’s three Junji Ito adaptations! This guy must be amazing!), Issei jumps into the directors chair, for this kung fu special effects extravaganza.
"Kung Fu Kid" tells the tale of Kunfu-kun, a young Shaolin monk who is seeking to pass the test of the 36 chambers of Shaolin. Kunfu-kun is a martial arts prodigy. He demolishes every opponent in his path. But when it comes time for him to take the final test, entering the 36th chamber of Shaolin, his master tells him he’s not ready, and sends him to Japan . When the time comes, Kunfu-kun will meet his enemy, discover the true meaning of kung-fu and achieve enlightenment, mastering the final chamber! He soon finds himself in a country in which he does not speak the language, but is quickly adopted by Izumi-chan, an older woman who runs a noodle shop. But of course it’s no ordinary noodle shop. Izumi-chan uses her tai-chi skills to deliver bowls of noodles to her clients, amazing them with her martial ability. Kunfu-kun quickly befriends her grand daughter Reiko, begins to attend school with her, training her friends in kung-fu! Its here that he discovers an evil plot, lead a mysterious corporation, to dominate Japan by brainwashing its youth with videogames! Only Reiko, Kunfu-kun and their friends can stop the madness, before it’s too late!
If there is one thing I can say about "Kung Fu Kid", is that it’s really fun. It gets utterly outrageous at times, and Issei Oda lays on the special effects pretty thick, but the film definitely put a smile on my face. While the film is by no means a children’s classic, it does contain enough great moments to warrant it as essential viewing. It contains a solid message about the true meaning of martial arts and why one must resort to fighting. Zhang Zhuang, who plays Kunfu-kun, was selected from several thousand prospective kung-fu practitioners, and the kid has some crazy movies. He’s somewhat reminiscent of Xie Miao, Jet Li’s on screen son in "My Father is a Hero" and "The New Legend of Shaolin". While Zhang Zhuang doesn’t have the same on screen charisma that Xie Miao had, he more than makes up for it with kick ass kung fu! Kenji Tanigaki’s choreography does a decent job of making it look, sound and feel like little Kunfu-kun is actually beating the snot out of his opponents. The man has been working with Donnie Yen among other people, so its no surprise his action choreography is good. The film also features other industry regulars, such as TV regular Pinko Izumi as Izumi-chan, and the recently deceased Masato Ibu (recently seen in "Glory to the Filmmaker!" and the upcoming "Goemon"). Smart, funny, and full of heart, "Kung Fu Kid" is a great introduction to martial arts for kids of all ages. It also carries enough references to kung fu classics, even including a drunken master scene as Kunfu-kun becomes drunk from fizzy drinks, that it can entertain even the most ardent martial arts fan.
"Kung Fu Kid" will be screening Saturday April 18 at 11:20am and Sunday April 19 at 9:45am at Famous Players Canada Square (2190 Yonge Street, at Yonge and Eglinton) as part of this year's Sprockets Toronto International Film Festival for Children, which runs April 18-24, 2009. More info at Sprockets.ca.