It’s the year 1985. Kung Fury is a cop in the Miami Police Department whose partner gets killed while pursuing a ninja when, out of nowhere, Kung Fury gets struck by lightning (and bit by a cobra), giving him powerful kung fu skills. After an attack at the precinct, Kung Fury must go back in time to defeat Adolph Hitler, now known as Kung Führer.
Hell of a premise, right? This short film currently taking the internet by storm is the brainchild of Swedish filmmaker, David Sandberg, who is the writer, director and star of the film. Inspired by films of the 80’s, Sandberg turned to Kickstarter to fund the project, asking for $200,000 and receiving well over $600,000 by the end. I remember watching the trailer a year ago and getting excited, but it fell off my radar until more news came out about it and the David Hasselhoff music video, True Survivor, was released. The short film is now available for free on YouTube, and in about five days has already reached over 10 million views.
Tackling any movie like Kung Fury is a bit tricky if you’re going to look at it critically. It’s hard to pull off an homage to things that were considered “bad” to begin with. It’s all about the approach that the filmmaker will take. Kung Fury clearly indulges itself in tropes and clichés from the 80’s and exaggerates them to a ridiculous degree. As far the execution goes, I hate to step on people’s fun, but I don’t think it quite works as a whole. Is it bad? I won’t go that far, but I think the short has some problems with its approach to the style and the humor.
I know that while humor is subjective, you can still dissect them in a way to understand why they work or do not work. My issue with the humor in Kung Fury basically boils down to the fact that I think it would have been much funnier if David Sandberg hadn’t gone out of his way to insert jokes. It’s strange to complain about a comedy adding jokes, I get it. However, the short film is built around having a ridiculous moment after ridiculous moment after ridiculous moment. If ridiculous is the default, then what is the comedic exaggeration? There needs to be some aspect that feels grounded so that when things escalate, it has a punch to it. I also think it could have benefited from losing some of the one-liners and obvious gags because what ultimately made me laugh were the subtle references, throwaway lines, or action beats. The small moments that could’ve been easily missed when you’re bombarded with non-stop action or VFX craziness are the ones where the humor really shined for me. It is because those small moments were played fairly straight, at least compared so some of the bigger jokes. Playing the ridiculous as normal and nothing out of the ordinary would have benefited the film in terms of being an homage to 80’s films that were at least bad with a sense of earnestness.
Regarding the look and feel of the short, it is by no means an authentic recreation of 80’s films. The visuals of Kung Fury are to 80’s films what Sin City is to film noir. I can’t really complain too much about it though because the short does look incredible. The combination of sets and green screen use is inspiring considering the budget they were working with. I would have preferred to see more practical effects since that would feel more in spirit to the films that Sandberg is riffing on. The CGI in the short is not bad, mostly because of how well integrated they are into their environment. However, it is in these moments where it begins to steer towards Asylum territory, and while I can certainly take pleasure in some of their films, it does seem like Kung Fury strives to be something much better than anything the Asylum does.
Like I said, Kung Fury is not a bad short, but it does come off as a bit disingenuous. It has more than enough merit to warrant my interest in seeing David Sandberg do more things. However, when it comes to things like Kung Fury, I don’t find them very enjoyable when I feel like the movie (not the filmmakers, mind you, but the movie itself) is in on the joke. I never thought I would feel jaded to seeing some of the crazy stuff in the short like Laser Raptors, or a character brilliantly named “Triceracop,” but I guess that’s the internet for you. I have seen better in this style, one example being the great Australian comedy series, Danger 5, which is currently on Netflix. That series does some similar things to Kung Fury, but the execution is much better.