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Is that supposed to be funny?
A region 2 DVD review of MY KUNG FU 12 KICKS / SHI ER TAN TUI by Slarek
 

As someone whose schooldays were made bearable in part by an addiction to matial arts films, the opportunity to revisit a work from the genre's glorious heyday is always keenly anticipated. Actually the clunkily titled Kung Fu My 12 Kicks was made at the tail end of of the first wave and in some ways plays more like an early entry into the second, with its combination of kung fu action and knockabout comedy. It features one of the minor stars of the post-Bruce Lee period in the shape of Siu-Lung Leung, or Bruce Leung as he came to be known (funny how popular the name Bruce was to become around this time), who modern audiences will know as the man who played The Beast in Stephen Chow's recent Kung Fu Hustle. So, a forgotten genre classic then? Not exactly...

The story is standard genre stuff. Pickpocket Tau Pin lands himself in trouble with local moneylender Chow and takes a severe beating as a result. He is helped back to health by the older Chai, who suggests he learn kung fu to protect himself. Unfortunately he arrives at the local martial arts school just in time to see the teachers being kicked senseless by the skilled but evil Kwai. He takes them back to his lodgings and nurses them, and they agree to train him in order that he be able to avenge their dishonour. But this training proves inadequate for the task, and it is then that Pin's rickshaw-driving housemate reveals his own skills as a kung fu master and teacher.

Yeah, we know the plot is predictable and formulaic, but it's the fights we came for, and they are...well...pretty crap, actually. Now I could be seen as being a little unfair here, given that we're looking back 27 years and past a couple of decades of increasingly sophisticated action choreography, but given that Bruce Lee's career had already been cut short six years earlier, the bar against which the action scenes could fairly be measured had already been set, and My 12 Kicks frankly falls way short. The fight choreography itself is efficient if unspectacular, but is executed in distinctly half-hearted manner, few blows having any real sense of power or forceful contact and most fights coming across more like walkthroughs for the real thing.

The integration of action and comedy has been cited as anticipating the work of Jackie Chan, but Chan's breakthrough film Drunken Master was released a year before My 12 Kicks appeared, leaving poor Leung and his film to stand in the shadow of Chan as a well as Lee. The real problem with the comedy is it's just not funny. I appreciate that this is a subjective call, but despite some pot juggling, wall climbing and the brief use of the hapless Chai as a weapon, there is none of Chan's acrobatic inventiveness on display here, and way too much wide-eyed mugging and 'wah-wah-wah-waaaah' comedy music for my liking.

The only real surprise is the handling of the inevitable Girl, the princess character introduced for the hero to fall for and to rescue when she gets kidnapped. At the risk of spoiling the plot for anyone who cares (if you do, nip to the next paragraph), it's a little disconcerting to see her beaten to death just minutes after after being grabbed, though this doesn't seem to bother Tau Pin or his director, both of whom completely ignore her fate from this point on – the inevitably victorious note on which the film ends seems an almost callous in its disregard for her fate.

Kung Fu My 12 Kicks has little to offer that you won't find done a whole lot better elsewhere, something that for me was emphasised by viewing the film the very day after reviewing Stephen Chow's King of Beggars, a far more accomplished melding of action and comedy. Mind you, its hard to fairly judge a film whose picture has been so severely cropped and whose dialogue has been so wretchedly dubbed – at times it felt almost as if the voice artists (and I use that term loosely) were not following any sort of script at all, but badly improvising to mouth movements. Which leads us to...

sounds and vision

Oh fuck, where do I start? I was once told if you can't say something nice then don't say anything at all, but if I followed that advice then this review would have concluded some time ago. I'm always looking for the up side of any DVD, but in terms of the quality of this transfer there just isn't one.

First up the picture is framed 4:3, which is cropped from the original 2.35:1 and harmfully so. Faces are cut in half and much of the action takes place just out of frame, which works with director Lu Po Tu's sometimes odd camera angles to ensure that some fight sequences are actually quite hard to follow. The opening sequence, in order to fit the titles in, is squeezed up from 16:9.

Next up is the picture quality itself, which is bloody poor and looks for the most part as if it's been hauled off of a VHS copy and an NTSC one at that, complete with giveaway movement judders and dual image freeze-frames. Contrast is shabby, black levels are dark grey, colours are faded and there is a gloomy muddiness to the whole thing that swallows almost all detail in the night scenes. Oh, and there are some very visible halos around the character in the pre-title sequence. Or is it ghosting? There are also plenty of compression artefacts dancing around the screen in just about every scene.

Finally, as if the above wasn't enough, we have the dust spots. I swear I have never seen a DVD transfer with more dust on it than this one. At times the picture is swimming with with the stuff, and at its worst is joined by hairs, scratches and even the odd tape splice. Take a look at the frame grab above, and believe me it gets a lot worse than this.

As for the sound, well there are only so many crimes that can be committed here and the disc isn't thankfully guilty of all of them, but this is still a long way short of ideal. The main problem here is an underlying hiss that once again suggests an analogue tape source, with a few loud pops here and there to remind us that the film print was in a shit state to begin with.

In terms of audio options there is only one, and that's the English dub, with no Cantonese and no subtitles offered.

extra features

The My Kung Fu 12 Kicks UK Promotional Trailer (2:46) will confuse the hell out of you for the first two thirds, as it's actually a trailer for something called The Idiot Swordsman, although the picture is so blurry and the red of the title bleeds so badly that you'll have to concentrate to read it. The promised trailer kicks in for the last few seconds. Both are rubbish and the whole thing ends on a juddery freeze frame. Technical advice to those responsible – de-interlace the freeze frame before burning to DVD.

Exciting releases from 55th Chamber (0:25) is quick slide-show of the covers of five releases from Prism's 55th Chamber label, including this one.

There are also Web Links, so you know where to go to complain.

summary

Prism have set up the 55th Chamber label specifically to bring little seen old school kung fu films to the UK DVD market at a budget price, which in itself is admirable. And we can all make certain allowances for age of film and unavailability of perfect prints and so on, but this is still taking the piss. If you're a real fanatic for these films and you really want to get your hands on Kung Fu My 12 Kicks then go for the Crash Cinema US release – the transfer may be non-anamorphic but it is 2.35:1 and apparently in a lot better shape than this, although it still suffers under the weight of what I assume is the same English dub.

My Kung Fu 12 Kicks
Shi er tan tu

Hong Kong 1979
84 mins
director
Lu Po Tu
starring
Bruce Leung.
Guk Fung
Lee Hoi Sang
Hon Gwok Choi`
Dai Sai Aan

DVD details
region 2
video
4:3 cropped
sound
Dolby 2.0 mono
languages
English
subtitles .
none
extras
Trailer
distributor
Prism – 55th Chamber
release date
24 April 2006
review posted
23 April 2006

See all of Slarek's reviews