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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Kung Fu Dunk 功夫灌籃 is a depressing film to watch on Valentine's Day

Kung Fu DunkI don't really mind Jay Chou as an actor.

So far, to me, his films were either surprisingly entertaining (INITIAL D), unintentionally campy (CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER) or unexpectedly affecting (SECRET). But I had my doubts about his newest film KUNG FU DUNK. In fact, I was prepared for the worst.

The director of the film is Kevin Chu Yen Ping, whose numerous films in the 90s had given me nightmares due to their sheer crapness. Remember those Shaolin Popeye films? You know, the ones with that annoying bald fat kid and the kungfu fighting Shaolin kid which often star Jimmy Lin? Well, those are from him.

The comedy in his film tend to be lame and humourless, often I feel more ashamed with what was happening onscreen than amused. And I'm no highbrow film snob, since I can still be caught in TVB drama marathons, or watching chick flicks. And I have once told Ming Jin the Mentor that my belief is thus:

"It's better to watch a shitty comedy like Scary Movie than a shitty drama. At least you might still laugh when watching a comedy."

Of course, I forgot to say that the above only apply to most Hollywood lowbrow comedies, since the really bad Hong Kong comedies generally plunge to lower depths.

90% of the films with HK pop star duo Twins in it are such examples for me. TWINS MISSION, TWINS EFFECT 2, PROTEGE DE LA ROSE NOIRE etc. Watching them tend to make me want to stab my own eyes with chopsticks just so I could end my own misery.

But while watching KUNG FU DUNK, I was surprised that I wasn't consumed by the murderous hateful rage like I did when watching the aforementioned films.

What I felt when watching KUNGFU DUNK was mere numbness, and a sad resignation that I was sitting through another terrible film. In terms of production values, the film is definitely much glossier and sleeker compared to, say, TWINS MISSION, but the ultimate flaw would have to do with the screenplay and, well, Kevin Chu's direction.

Sports films are often formulaic, but effective. Just give us an underdog story with a ragtag bunch of characters to root for, throw in seemingly insurmountable odds for them to overcome, and then climax at a pulsating feel-good final tournament. That's all I need.

But how the hell can KUNGFU DUNK actually fail at something as simple as this? Is it because the filmmakers didn't want to adhere to the proven formula, and decide to go for something... 'innovative' instead? And what's so innovative about this film? That it had more lame jokes, and more focus on Eric Tsang and Jay Chou's characters relationship (it's like a love story between the two compared to Jay and Charlene Choi's character, I kid you not), some needless parodies of martial arts films, that's it.

KUNGFU DUNK had also stolen some concepts from the classic anime/manga SLAM DUNK, which, sadly, reflected the filmmakers' lack of knowledge, or passion, for the game of basketball.

'He who controls rebounds, controls the game', or 'learning to pass is the key to the game' etc. Both blatantly stolen from SLAM DUNK, I'm all right with that as long as the filmmakers themselves CAN show us WHY these concepts are important. In actual NBA games, when watching an awesome point guard like Jason Kidd or Steve Nash (or nowadays, Chris Paul), their passing abilities are almost like an art. A beautiful no-look pass can awe me just as much as an alley-oop dunk, a key rebound that decides the fate of a game can make me yell just as excitedly as a game-winning shot, but these were not portrayed in the film.

Lovehkfilm's review was right. If learning selflessness is the key to winning for Jay Chou's character, shouldn't he be selfish the whole time, before finally relenting and learning to become a playmaker (with passing) when circumstances forced him to? Of all the things that they should've copied from SLAM DUNK, why not borrow the part where the teammates are constantly at odds with each other because of their personal ego, before finally learning to click together as a team in the end when they play against the national champs? For crap's sake, why WHY didn't the screenwriters give the main characters something that resemble character arcs?

Jie (Jay Chou) is a silly and likeable fellow who is so bland that one would hope that he'll be edgier, but the fact is, he had already gotten along with his two teammates, captain Ding Wei (Wilson Chen) and star player Xiao Lan (Baron Chen) relatively early in the film, and the two just seemed content with Jie usurping their place at the new star of the team, but can't we just have a MINOR conflict in the team? Shouldn't either Ding Wei or Xiao Lan be pissed?

We already have enough fangirls worshipping Jay Chou, do we NEED the film characters to do the same, just stay aside and let Jie hog the limelight? But since both Ding Wei and Xiao Lan's characters are cardboard cutouts with zero character development, I guess I'm not supposed to question all these. That, unfortunately, makes the lazy attempts to flesh them out even more laughable.

Just some quick flashbacks. One showing Ding Wei's sad and sorrowful past where his mistake cost a game, and thus turning him into an alchoholic seeking redemption. Another is even funnier, out of nowhere, we have Xiao Lan visiting the grave of a girlfriend never hinted nor mentioned throughout the film and having quick flashbacks of their happier moments. For a while, I wondered whether all these were done with irony, and I was meant to laugh through them. I never knew.

What's the joy of watching a basketball film when the basketball games in the film aren't even that exciting to watch? For some weird reason, the basketball teams in KUNG FU DUNK don''t have coaches, so we don't see nice and elaborate offensive and defensive schemes, we just see a bunch of people constantly running in nice fast breaks and throwing alley-oop dunks, or Jie taking half-court shots. Where's the tension? Where's the excitement?

Sheesh, that's it?

I CAN believe that Jie plays basketball like a superhuman because he's raised in a kung fu temple, but how come every single important character of the film plays like a superhero? How could Xiao Lan and Ding Wei, both normal blokes, soar so high towards the basket (their waists could almost touch the rim) for easy dunks? By making everyone so insanely powerful, Jie's kungfu background thing becomes less unique. Try imagine Shaolin Soccer where Stephen Chow's teammates are all just normal blokes, yet they could still play like Shaolin disciples, will that make Chow's character unique?

Maybe being a NBA fan makes me more picky when seeing how the game of basketball is portrayed in a film, maybe the complexities of basketball is beyond the filmmakers' capabilities to show, so all they could do was have boring one-note high-wire special effects-heavy matches to satiate the fans who just want to see Jay Chou's face. But damn it, the sheer incompetence of the filmmaking annoys the crap out of me. (Seriously, for a Jay Chou star vehicle, this film can't even make its star look good. I have never seen so many unflattering shots of Jay Chou in a film that made me go '... hm, man, this guy is kinda... butt-ugly'.) My reaction was... "how can they even mess THIS up when there are gazillions of sports films to serve as template?" I find the sports sequence in THE ROCK'S THE GAME PLAN even more exciting.

Right now, it seem as if I'm preaching that a sports film should adhere to conventions and formula, but c'mon, when you watch a sports film where the main team loses a match, and a guy does a special kung-fu technique that reverses time, just so they can play the last few seconds of the match again, can you STILL feel happy that they won, even if the time-travelling was needed to avoid the opponents from cheating?

I don't.

KUNG FU DUNK trailer

I felt more entertained seeing Dwight Howard do his Superman dunk in last Saturday's Slam Dunk contest...

Dwight Howard Superman Dunk