Story: Mo Hahou (Donnie Yen) has killed his opponent in a duel and turns himself in. Three years later he watches the news in prison which
report of a martial arts master being brutally battered to death. Thereupon, Mo wants to talk to the lead investigator in the case, Luk (Charlie Yeung). He
wants to help with the investigation and for that be temporarily released from prison. Luk doesn't see any reason for that, but after another martial artist
is killed and the victim is also one of the men Mo pointed out as one of the killer's next targets she accepts his help. It doesn't take long for them to
uncover the killer's identity. Fung Yu-Sau (Wang Baoqiang) is a madman who wants to become the number one among all fighters. Mo almost manages to catch
the killer, but he escapes eventually and Mo flees from the police, too, returning to his home town. There he visits his wife Sinn Ying (Bai Bing) who knows
of the murders as well. After Mo has made sure that she is well, he finds another clue in the case and contacts the police again.
Review: Doesn't it sound great? A kung fu flick, which at the same time is also a gritty Hong Kong thriller. That's at least the expectations
which are raised. Unfortunately, "Kung Fu Jungle" doesn't turn out to be as original. In its core it's simply a typical kung fu story, which centers around
becoming the undisputed number one in the martial arts world. Accordingly, the biggest downside of this action flick is that the screenplay is too shallow in
order to convince the way we would have hoped for, despite some attempts to give the movie a bit more substance. However, when it comes to the action you can
set your mind at rest. The fights are marvelously captured, violent and full of variety. Thus, martial arts fans will no doubt get their money's worth.
What distinguishes a good movie is first and foremost a good story or alternatively well written characters. That's what you won't find here. The story is
supposed to be more thrilling than it actually is by making Mo have some secrets. But the resolution is pretty disappointing and doesn't deliver anything
outstanding. You even feel a bit cheated. In the end the investigation proves to be quite unoriginal. Sometimes it seems as if there were attempts to put
some more drama into the film, but that's just seemingly so. Because after all Fung is simply a madman, who doesn't have any motive of a tragical past he can
show as an excuse for his actions. That's, as we realize during the movie over and over again, just too little for a good thriller. The villain
shouldn't be just plain evil.
All individuals in the picture seem pretty generic and Wang Baoqiang can't change that either, having already played a villain in
"Fairy Tale Killer" or apart from several supporting roles also shined in "Lost
in Thailand". He manages to bestow the much needed madness and intensity on his character, but his role remains shallow nonetheless. However, it's impressive
to see his martial arts skills on screen, which he hasn't really shown prior to this film. He almost outshines Donnie Yen, too! He certainly has the
most fight scenes and works his way through different fight styles very skillfully. The fights deliver everything you could ask for, there are also
several weapon fights. And even though you never get to see anything too harsh, the fights are still pretty violent.
Those who fear that they won't get enough of Donnie Yen ("The Monkey King", "14 Blades") can rest assured. The showdown completely makes up for the little time Yen spends fighting. How much "Kung Fu Jungle" is a tribute to action cinema is also reflected in the countless cameo appearances, and we also get the names to the faces during the credits. That is in fact a bit odd, but this way you can at least be certain to actually have seen Raymond Chow (the founder of Golden Harvest) next to David Chiang and others. You really get to see a lot of cameos from people you know from behind and in front of the camera, which makes "Kung Fu Jungle" an ode to HK action cinema. That is all fine and dandy, but it also deprives the movie of its thriller-like tense atmosphere.
So is this a thriller after all or not? Yes, in its core the movie is gritty enough and also features a fitting mood. But unfortunately the story can't work on this level of quality. There are also a few strange plot developments, which honestly you aren't even supposed to understand, for instance when Luk, played by Charlie Leung ("Floating City"), discovers at an altar who the next victim is. On the outside everything looks just fine. Director Teddy Chan ("Bodyguards and Assassins") works on a high level, the mood is fitting and the fights are fantastic. But that makes the shallowness of the story and characters stand out even more. Next to that some of the cgi effects aren't convincing either. "Kung Fu Jungle" is in fact a gritty martial arts thriller and that alone is rare to find. Yet, the movie sadly has some downsides which can't be overlooked...