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I figured that when I chose to undertake this zombie project that I'd be seeing a pretty wide array of movies that just so happened to feature the living dead. So when I saw Kung Fu Zombie out there, I decided I had to see it. I mean, how can you go wrong when you combine the two? How much would it rule to see creatures that can kick your ass and eat flesh all at the same time?
I quickly realized that this movie has a little too much Kung Fu and not enough Zombies. Now, there's nothing wrong with that normally, but this is zombie time, so I'd prefer the opposite. But still, there are zombies, although they might not be what you'd expect.
One of a string of low-budget cult favorites from the late 70's/early 80's in Hong Kong, Kung Fu Zombie stars Billy Chong, who is kind of a b-movie version of Jackie Chan. After the Kung Fu genre had pumped out countless near-clones over the past decade or so, someone got the bright idea to put a little dose of the macabre into the mix. The product was films like Kung Fu from Beyond the Grave and the movie we're covering here today.
The story goes something a little like this: Evil martial arts dude decides to lure his rival (Billy Chong, whose character caused our baddie's daddy to go to prison some time ago) to his demise by having his wizard buddy create voodoo zombies to attack him. The plan backfires, and the voodoo zombies wind up taking the life of the villain. His ghost, however, is determined to find a new body, so he harasses the wizard to find him one. After a few unsuccessful tries, he winds up in the body of Billy Chong's slain father. However, the experiment goes awry, and the result is the Kung Fu Zombie: An asskicking member of the walking dead club.
Actually, there's a lot more story going on, but it gets a little confusing. I'm sure that the bad lighting and the really bad dubbing job don't exactly help matters, but there was a lot of backstory and family nonsense that really kind of got in the way. Kung Fu Zombie is one of those little genre movies that would have been fine had it been left a lot simpler, but it still served to be a fairly amusing little piece of cinema regardless.
Since the point of seeing the film was for the zombies, I'll critique them instead of the storyline. The zombies come in a few different forms here. We've got the creepy voodoo zombies at the beginning of the film, we've got the asskicking titular monster, and at the end, we get a little teaser of some good old fashioned Romero-esque flesh-eaters that never really gets off the ground. The voodoo zombies are just being manipulated by the evil wizard dude, so they don't really fit the standard definition, but boy, do they look cool. Their creepy maggot-ridden faces with the deep sunken eye pits are quite well-done. The asskicking Kung Fu Zombie himself is a little too animated to really be a traditional zombie, not to mention the fact that he doesn't really seem to crave flesh and talks like a regular living person. The only zombies that really fit the traditional archetype are only shown for about 2 seconds at the end.
The thing that really sticks out is the ridiculously cheesy special effects. Lightning strikes and laser beams look like they were drawn on to the print with a magic marker. The "ghost" of the deceased villain is represented in several sequences by hanging a rice paddy hat about six feet in the air with a string. Especially amusing is the point where the ghost puts the hat over his heart, and the next shot shows the rice paddy hat being hung vertically.
The version I saw was, as I mentioned a bit ago, terribly dubbed in to English. The voice actors almost seem like they're expending more effort to make their words match the mouths of the actors on screen than to actually match the translations. The sound and foley work is irritating as hell in a lot of scenes. The best part of all this is the music, which ranges from goofy circusy bits to actual pieces of the James Bond theme being stolen to introduce the title villain.
If you're looking for good Kung Fu action and not too worried about the zombies (or the vampire who enters the story later on) then you really can't go wrong. There is a ton of action here, and it's all done at such a frenetic pace that it's almost impossible to keep up with it all. But if you're looking for something to satiate your Zombie palate, you're better off going elsewhere.
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