October 22, 2011

DVD Review: KungFu Joe

The world of low, super low, and no budget films can be a scary place. This is a realm where bad acting, poor production values, and bad stories run rampant. Sure, there is the rare good film, rarer still is that film that gets picked up and makes waves on a national scale (like El Mariachi and Paranormal Activity), but that is far and away the exception. Generally speaking, I just hope that I can make it through in one sitting. That brings me to Kung Fu Joe. This looks like a super low to no-budget production, it looks cheap, but I think that plays into the style of the movie. Yes, the movie has style and is actually quite fun.

Kung Fu Joe is a weird movie. It is an homage/parody of exploitation cinema. It takes a look back at the 1980's, take away the budget, and amp up the odd parts of the era. It is a combination blaxploition (despite a primarily white cast) and kung fu flick. In a way it mines similar territory as Black Dynamite, just on a much smaller scale.

We are introduced to our lead actor right off the bat. Kung Fu Joe struts down an alley before being slapped and kissed by a pair of women who wonder where he has been. This is immediately followed by a couple of detectives who confront him for questioning. He laughs it off and goes into a store to help a clerk being accosted by a hunchback, a pro-wrestler type with a potted plant on his head, and a ninja. They want the shop to sell their doughnuts. In any case, Kung Fu Joe makes short work of them.

Yes, the plot of this movie involves the bad guys selling doughnuts. Of course, these are a type of pastry that leads to mind control due to a secret ingredient. Kung Fu Joe teams up with a local detective, called appropriately The Detective, to track down the bad guy and put a stop to his doughnut selling scheme.

The story is a bit ridiculous, but it is fun. The script is littered with bits of dialogue from other movies, it almost plays like a drinking game. Whenever you recognize a bit of dialogue or a shot, take a drink. You will find references to  Star Wars, Blackbelt Jones, A Few Good Men, Shaft, Soylent Green and all sort of other features that I will leave for you to find.

Kung Fu Joe is writer/director Glenn Berry's debut feature and it is pretty ridiculous. It is a movie that wears its influences on its sleeve. In a way, this movie is an homage to the movies Berry loves. At least that is how I see it. There is a great energy about the production as if everyone is having a lot of fun making it. They are all in on the joke and recognize just how ridiculous everything is.

It is impossible to take this movie seriously on any level. At times it feels like they are trying to hard to get the joke. Still, there is something rather infectious. It is its insidious nature that gets it into your head and wins you over in the end. The story and pacing are all over the place, the plot seems inconsequential next to the jokes. Basically, just give yourself over to the low budget exploitation homage.

Audio/Video. The technical side of the disk is not all that impressive. Again, this movie has an incredibly low budget and the look and sound of the DVD represent that. The 1.85:1 video is a bit to the soft side and  the detail is not exactly great. There are a few sequences that are bathed in one color or another (examples are the bad guy is overdone in blue and a flashback is done in yellow) and they seem to cover up some of it, but still don't look all that good. It is certainly watchable, just don't expect much of anything in terms of really good looking video. The audio is in much the same boat. It is a Dolby Digital 2.0 track and the dialogue is always clear, but it does not have an awful lot of life.


  • Commentary. The track features writer/director Glenn Berry and star Zak VanWinkle. This is quite an informative track despite a rather dry delivery. If you enjoy the film, this is worth giving a listen.
  • Behind the Scenes.
  • Trailers. Two trailers are included.
  • Stills. A bunch of stills, nothing particularly special.

Bottomline. Not exactly a testament to great film making, it is not a really good film. It is fun, goofy, and worth your time if you enjoy low budget silliness. It makes thjavascript:void(0)e perfect movie to have a bunch of move loving friends over to have some drinks. I suspect the more references you get, the more you drink, the more entertaining this movie becomes. But what do I know? I enjoyed it sober.


Article first published as DVD Review: KungFu Joe on Blogcritics

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