You know youâ€™re in for a long haul when you check the time counter on your DVD player, it tells you that only 29 minutes have elapsed and you exclaim, â€œThatâ€™s it?â€ But, as my father-in-law asked me midway through Kung Fu Killer, â€œWhat did you expect? Itâ€™s a David Carradine movie.â€ Indeed, Kung Fu Killer (on DVD January 6th) is a David Carradine movie that is part historical drama (China in the ’20s), part Rambo, and part gangster film. After the success he attained with the Kill Bill movies, youâ€™d think Carradine would have taken advantage of his comeback to go on to better things (see John Travolta and to a lesser degree, Robert Forrester). Alas, Carradine marches to a different (strange) drummer, so he went off to remote China to shoot some kung fu movies.
In Kung Fu Killer, Carradine is White Crane, a Caucasian monk and spiritual master of martial arts. When he witnesses his Wudang Grandmaster murdered by the command of a ruthless gangster (Kay Tong Limâ€™s â€œKhanâ€), Crane travels to Shanghai to enact revenge. There, he meets a club owner (Jimmy Taenaka) who is pulled in different directions by the government, Khan and the resistance (hey, heâ€™s like Bogey in Casablanca!) Through the club owner, Crane is introduced to Khan and uses his art of deception to infiltrate Khanâ€™s gang. At the club, Crane also meets a lounge singer, played by Daryl Hannah, who is in Shanghai looking for her long-lost brother, a chemist. Little does she realize that Khan has imprisoned her brother and is forcing him to create a poison gas to use against the resistance.
What was that I said about Carradine and taking advantage of Kill Bill to go on to better things? Poor Daryl Hannah. In this movie, she has morphed herself into a poor manâ€™s Melanie Griffith by playing a ditz with a heart of gold. I thought Daryl Hannah was better than something like this. Unfortunately, she may be reaching that certain age in which actresses donâ€™t get hired in Hollywood, which is very sad and the subject of a whole other column somewhere down the line.
Throughout Kung Fu Killer, Carradine wears exactly one expression as he delivers lines (most of them proverbs or riddles) with gravitas. And of course, there is plenty of kung fu action. Wrists get snapped and bones pop through the skin; stomachs are sliced and intestines slop to the ground; heads are severed and tossed around like volleyballs. But donâ€™t expect George Romero/Tom Savini type of blood and gore. These effects are cheap and laughable.
Executive produced by Robert Halmi, Sr. and Robert Halmi, Jr., Kung Fu Killer has the look and feel of every single one of their made-for-TV spectaculars (Gulliverâ€™s Travels, The 10th Kingdom, Dinotopia — to name a few), only with tons more blood and gore and a much worse script. Additionally, Kung Fu Killer was shot with hand-held cameras (presumably high-def) to offset the production costs of a period piece. While the production design and costumes are excellent, everything else is worthy of a late-night showing on the Sci-Fi Channel. All of the audio feels like it was dubbed after production was complete, and the music consists of cheesy synthesizers filling in for a real jazz band. Unless youâ€™re a hardcore David Carradine fan, you can definitely wait for Kung Fu Killer to show up on cable.