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King Kung Fu
(1976)
 

Director: Lance Hayes                                
Cast:
John Balee, Tom Leahy, Maxine Gray


There are so many bad moments in King Kung Fu, that it's just as hard trying to think of the worst moment as trying to think of any merit to be found in the movie. What's the merit? Well...I can't think of any, to be honest. It hurts just to think of this movie. But I see I have several more paragraphs to go, so I have to write about something.

Okay, worst moment then....hm.... After some thought, I guess it must be the dance number. Here's the setup: In a cunning scheme to capture King Kung Fu, a Chinese gorilla who knows the martial arts, the police have forced Herman, the typical kind of nerd who has a handlebar mustache, to act as bait. They take Herman to the Wichita fairgrounds, put him on a stage, and force him to dance a frenzied dance that seems like a bad parody of a typical foot-stomping number from Riverdance. And the music he is dancing to? It's the old classic tune, "Turkey In The Straw". Just what your average gorilla would find attractive about that, I don't know. Maybe that's why the police also forced Herman to wear a gorilla costume. Not just your average cheap black plastic mask / nylon hair gorilla costume (which is what the actor playing King Kung Fu wears, by the way), but a pink and more feminine plastic mask / nylon hair gorilla costume.

Actually, the other moments in King Kung Fu are just about as bad as that pathetic sight of a shabby pink gorilla rapidly stomping around, and for the most part they don't try as hard. But before going into more detail on the movie's ineptness, a short plot description. In China, kung fu master Alfunku has taught the skill of kung fu to King Kung Fu, a talking gorilla, and thinks Fu is ready to go to America to demonstrate his skills to the running dogs. (You would think the fact that the gorilla can talk would be a bigger attraction, but I guess not.) After an awful sequence parodying the weekly opening of the Kung Fu TV series (substituting a banana for the object to be snatched away), Fu is free to leave the temple to go to America. Though seeing how he is shipped to America in a cage in order to be displayed across the country, I think the better choice would have been to stay at the temple.

I see I'm having trouble describing the plot without talking about the idiocy of the movie. Let me try again. Anyway, at one point of the tour the gorilla gets shipped to Wichita, and this catches the eyes of two stupid reporter wannabes. One is Herman, and the other has the oh-so-funny name "Bo Burgess". Just why the producers thought that a goofy alteration of a minor actor's name would be funny is typical of the kind of humor to be found here. Bo has a girlfriend named "Rae Fey" (sigh), who works at the local Pizza Hut. The Pizza Hut gets several prominent shots from the outside, and several scenes take place inside, including the unfunny date Bo and Rae have at one point. I think after Pizza Hut saw this movie, they must have seen that cheese and pizza don't always mix.

Herman and Bo get an idea to use the arrival of Fu to advance their careers, and in a sequence too long and inane to waste time describing, Fu ends up on the loose in Wichita and starts causing all kinds of mischief. It's up to Herman and Bo, with the help of Rae, to find and bring back Fu before he gets hurt by the police. The police are lead by their captain "J. W. Duke", who is not only the worst John Wayne impersonator I've seen (looking and sounding nothing like Wayne), but looks creepily effeminate in the scenes when his cowboy hat is removed. Believe it or not, this is not the worst performance on display here. Throughout the movie there are countless examples of people speaking their dialogue as if they are beginner readers in elementary school, sometimes quite blatantly reading cue cards just to the side of the camera.

Well, I can see that not only can I not concentrate on the plot, it's pretty redundant to do so. So let me just sharpen my knife before I jump in for the kill. Okay.... King Kung Fu is an absolutely terrible movie. There's not one single laugh, unless you find amusing scenes of someone knocking over a pile of empty beer cans, dubbed-in slide whistles and cymbal crashes, or cutting to a man with painted ping pong ball eyes over his eyes when seeing a "sexy" lady. Or seeing this gorilla, already looking horrible with its tacky costume, wearing a tacky cowboy outfit. Even if the references to Howard Cosell, Ralph Nader, and Smilin' Jack didn't date this movie badly, they would still be devoid of humor. Considering this is intended to be a kiddie movie, these pop culture references also seem out of place.

I'm not sure which is worse - the stillborn attempts at humor or what the spare change budget resulted in. The movie resembles a slightly more ambitious 8 mm home movie, not just with the horrendous cinematography and muffled sound. Almost all the movie is written to take advantage of existing locations, because the few places that need to be constructed for the movie (such as a TV news set) would be at home on a high school stage. There are cheap special effects that not ever Roger Corman would try to pull off. When Fu jumps down onto a car and goes through the roof, the effect is accomplished by showing a side view of the car and Fu actually landing at the side of the car not facing the camera. When multiple cop cars pull out of a police camera, this is accomplished by editing together multiple shots of the same police car pulling out of the garage.

You get the feeling nobody cared about the quality of the movie when you see one shot was flipped over by the editor, resulting in the signs in the background appearing in mirror image. Or when Fu is dragged around while asleep, but it being obvious the gorilla costume has been stuffed with cotton or some other material for this scene. Casual music is played during a high speed car chase, and the kung fu sequences, while meant to be slapstick funny, actually make the fights in Terence Hill / Bud Spencer movies sophisticated comedy. It's odd, incidentally, that while the movie has "kung fu" in its title, there really isn't that much kung fu at all on display. Questions like that kept filling my mind as I kept slumping further down in my chair as each torturous minute clicked by. I think I'll have to contact Jane Goodall about this movie to see if she can tell me which primate species was behind the camera.


UPDATE: I got this letter from E. Minges:

"Here's some background, which may explain the horror:

"Walterscheid Productions is a long-time producer of commercials in Wichita, Kansas. Walterscheid decided to make a movie, quite possibly inspired by Carnival of Souls' limited success, also produced by a Kansas (Lawrence) commercial house. He shot it within about a five-mile radius of downtown Wichita, and other than the two principals, most of the actors were Wichita State professors and students and members of the small coterie of locals who eke(d) out a living doing dinner theater and commercials in and around Wichita.

"I don't think it was ever shown in a theater; for years the only print I knew of was the one shown every couple of years at the annual drunk party of the Wichita State theater department. I was shocked, sickened and saddened a couple of months ago when I saw that that nervy bastard Walterscheid had put it on video, 25 years after he should have buried it a lime pit.

"I mean, it's hilarious, once, if you're real drunk and can point at Jim and Bill and Tom and Dick and hoot at the asses they're making of themselves, but I can't imagine anyone but close friends and relatives having the slightest interest in this horrifying dog. On behalf of all Shockers, past, present and future, I humbly apologize."

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See also: A*P*E, King Kong Escapes, Secret Agent Club

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