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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
terms of audio options there is only one, and that's the
English dub, with no Cantonese and no subtitles offered.
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.
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.
are also Web Links, so you know where to go to complain.
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.