KUNG FU KORNER: Fearless Fighters (1973)
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Pretty frickin' ridiculous and downright hilarious. Not on purpose, though!
Let's face it – to our sophisticated modern North American eyeballs, old school Kung Fu films can seem downright hilarious. They're more often than not poorly made and hard to follow, and the action always seems to have one foot over the line marked I don't know I guess "the line of believability".
To many Westerners with a passing familiarity with "chop socky" cinema, they're very occasionally charming but much more often so incredibly goofy that they beg to be parodied, which they often hilariously are. Like all good caricatures, parodies of Kung Fu films immediately latch onto the exaggerated features they sometimes possess and exploit them for laughs - bad dubbing, quick zooms, characters rushing into action with little provocation, etc..... Thanks to stuff like Police Academy and Kung Pow, a lot of cats have a pretty thorough familiarity with the tropes & style of Kung Fu flicks without having seen many (or any) Kung Fu flicks at all. Which, well speaking as a fan, that leaves me not exactly disgruntled, but at most... semi-gruntled. Some of my gruntle has been taken.
Out of all the Kung Fu films I’ve ever seen, legitimately good or laughably bad, Fearless Fighters is the first one I’ve ever come across that could actually pass as a parody of itself. I’ve seen some pretty ridiculous Kung Fu films before that do live up to the stereotypes, but this... this is something else. It’s literally just one big, fun, completely retarded non-stop fight festival with barely any kind of real story to hold it together. A bad guy wants to steal gold so he kills a bunch of people – that’s the set-up. No need for any actual characters or building any real tension. Instead, the protagonists of Fearless Fighters keep getting ambushed over and over and over by what ends up being a never-ending army of eccentric thugs. These ridiculously costumed oddballs will pop out of nowhere brandishing some pretty crazy weaponry only to die minutes later in a poorly-choreographed fight that can be easily re-enacted by you and your friends in the backyard with minimal injury. The wires they used to make things fly across the room are often clearly visible, and there are a million distracting jump-cuts meant to help (but fail to) sell a dude leaping high in the air. Instead of working with such primitive special effects by cutting away to an insert shot or something, the sloppy editing in this film only highlights its weak spots, to great comic effect. And I do mean great. In a very real way, all the technical flubs and plot holes read as intentional gags, and they operate on that level almost exclusively. This movie is fun as hell, and, no joke, actually made me LOL a few times. Like, when a bunch of statues in blackface come alive and attack some guy. Or, when (spoiler!) the one dude’s dead master’s ghost saves him from falling off a cliff by turning him into Inspector Gadget. Classic!
Seriously, though, it’s not like director Wu Ming Hsiung set out to make a film that would serve as the ultimate blueprint for every Kung Fu parody ever made, right? Hard to say, since I've never met the guy. What I do know is this: the parodist nature of Fearless Fighters may not even have entirely been the fault of the original filmmakers. As it turns out, in 1973 Fearless Fighters was brought Stateside by a hungry distributor (Richard Ellman) to compete in the over-saturated grindhouse circuit following the massive success of Enter the Dragon. And the first thing Ellman did was hire an editor (Dick Brummer) to cut out 15 minutes of boring dialogue and character stuff. Then, they actually, no joke, rewrote the script, taking what couldn't have been more than half an hour to finalize the dialogue before recording the poorly-dubbed English. And finally, they cut together an overly long and desperately sensationalist trailer that any snake oil salesman would've been proud of
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