Kung Pow: Enter the Fist (2002)


It seems strange to rave about how terrific a movie is and then never watch it a second time. There are perfectly logical reasons why things turn out that way, but it sounds backwards, you know?

There is no such paradox with a movie you hated. I’ve never re-watched the vast majority of the films that I’ve given F and D- reviews over the years, because why would I? I’m fascinated and often amused by bad movies, sure, but once is usually enough.

But many of the movies I’ve loathed have defenders. Not idiot defenders like all movies have (“TRANSFORMERS REVENGE OF THE FALLEN WUZ AWESOM U R TO OLD TO GET IT!!”) but actual supporters. Some of these films have developed cult followings of viewers who genuinely, non-ironically consider them quality entertainment. These people see something in these movies that I didn’t — and that intrigues me. We saw the same movie. Why does it work for them but not for me?

So on alternate weeks in this new Re-Views column, I’ll give a second chance to a movie I hated the first time. Who knows how my opinion might shift when the viewings are several years apart? Who knows what triggers might go off that didn’t fire the first time? There’s also the chance I’ll hate it even more the second time, which might be fun in its own way.

First up: “Kung Pow: Enter the Fist.”

What I said then:

“‘Kung Pow: Enter the Fist’ has a marvelous premise but fails completely due to some fundamental misunderstandings of the ways of comedy…. Having the mouths out of sync with the words is funny … but not forever. Giving the characters silly voices is funny … but not forever. Nearly every joke goes beyond the realm of humor and into the realm of being over-done. It’s the perfect example of a movie that should have been 15 minutes long.” Grade: F

It seemed like all the world agreed with me. At Rotten Tomatoes, only 11% of the reviews are considered positive, and the overall average rating is 2.8 out of 10 — which means the people who didn’t like it really didn’t like it. Nobody was lukewarm on this thing. The box office was appropriately low, topping off at about $17 million.

The re-viewing:

The main problem the first time around, and the focus of my review nine years ago, was that the movie’s premise is unclear. It purports to be a comical re-dubbing of an obscure kung fu flick from the 1970s, with writer/director Steve Oedekerk digitally inserted into the action. But then it has scenes that are obviously new, made from scratch, so seamlessly integrated with the old stuff that it’s almost impossible to tell which is which. Those new scenes, like the old ones, have the actors’ mouths out of sync with their words … except now it’s intentional. And it doesn’t really work, comedy-wise, to make fun of “mistakes” that you put there just so they could be made fun of. The human funny bone recognizes such chicanery, and rebels against it.

For the second viewing, I tried to disregard such matters and just let the jokes wash over me. The common direction to “just turn your brain off!” is nonsensical, not to mention impossible without the aid of foreign substances, but I vowed to be as forgiving and easy-going as possible.

It didn’t really work.

The flaws I fixated on originally didn’t bug me as much this time. Instead, I was struck by what a sloppy conceptual mess it is overall. Some scenes are straight-up re-dubbing, replacing the original dialogue with silly stuff. Then there’s a scene where the Steve Oedekerk character does battle with a CGI cow, and one where he talks to a James Earl Jones-ish spirit in the sky, a la “The Lion King.” (Yes, a “Lion King” parody is best when you do it eight years after everyone else, and for no good reason.) Sometimes the humor is based solely on the fact that the people doing the dubbing are talking in funny voices. Other times there’s legitimate satire of the original movie’s incompetence, with jokes about how a character’s shirt changes color in the middle of a scene. There’s a surreal running gag about Oedekerk’s tongue having a face of its own. The movie’s trying to do several very different things all at once, and as a result none of them quite work.

Given all this, I was surprised by how much I laughed, i.e., that I laughed at all. A few bits of silliness made me chuckle, even guffaw once or twice. If Oedekerk — who wrote, directed, produced, and starred in it — had narrowed it down to one unified concept, it could have worked very well. Probably just as a 10-minute short, not an 82-minute feature, but still. It had potential.

Do I still hate this movie?

No, I’ve backed off from my original “hate” assessment. Parts of it are agonizingly pointless and unfunny, but most of it is either harmless or even mildly amusing. I’m still glad they never followed through on the threat to make a sequel, though. Grade: C-