Now available to watch online on Netflix, Donnie Yen fans will absolutely love seeing the Hong Kong martial art action film master fly through many sequences of him punching, kicking, grappling, wielding weapons and, well, doing what he does best, which in this case also includes the outstanding fight choreography, highlighting different fighting techniques which happens to serve as the story backbone of Kung Fu Jungle, er … Killer. It says ‘Jungle’ in the credits and I guess the North American distributor figured it would make more money being called Kung Fu Killer, which, is in fact accurate in terms of story but it made me hesitate because, while I revel in the martial art, I’m not watching to see the killing. Martial art movies require years of serious artful training of the body, mind and spirit before the cameras roll – that’s real and fun to watch while the killing is fake and serves only the storytelling. ‘Killer’ might actually have more appeal than ‘Jungle’ but this movie isn’t about killing.
Nonetheless… there is a mad Kung Fu (Serial) Killer on the loose in modern day Hong Kong played by real life former impoverished bully fodder, farmer, construction worker and movie extra, Wang Baoqiang – present day Hong Kong martial arts action A-lister. He’s got a death wish, or a path to immortality – depends how you see it. He wants to beat all the former champions and finally the best of the best, their teacher and champion played by Yen. Not only is Baoqiang up to the task of challenging everything Yen can throw, but all the masters he disposes along the way before an all-out battle with Yen. Each sequence is another martial arts lesson as Baoqiang fights another master with a specialty: champion kicker, champion grappler, and champion swordsman – each a beautifully executed battle showing off a specific fighting technique… setting up Yen – who is the master of them all, for a fight to the death, on the freeway, forcing them to fight and dance through and under traffic and semi-trucks which blast through the scene.
Yen’s character and backstory delivers the message – the loneliness and cost of being number one. So obsessed with the need to be deemed the best, he went too far and killed a man during a match. Will he be able to restrain himself? What is the cost of going all the way? The personal stakes are high when he finally faces Baoqiang – intending to kill him. A few decent twists make it reasonably unpredictable but the script is logically weak in spots which I’m willing to forgive just to see these martial art action stars do their thing.
During the credits there is a “This Film is Dedicated To…” section and you think you’re about to see the name of someone who died during filming but what follows are many candid shots of cast, crew, directors and inspirations of Hong Kong action cinema, including Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. Yes, the west will always be a student of the martial arts action cinema of the east and it’s great to see some of the unsung heroes, including focus pullers and cameramen who need just as much training and dedication to their craft as the martial art pros in front of the camera.