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Kung Fu Traveler - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Gongfu Jiqixia

China 2017

Action, Sci-Fi

Zhang Xianfeng

Tiger Chen
Wang Zhi
Yang Zhi
Liu Yi Lin
Sheng Gang
Ye Yun Fei
Ma Qiang

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Kung Fu Traveler

Kung Fu Traveler - Film Screenshot 1

Story: Tung (Shawn Yue) suffers from bipolar disorder. He has been in a mental hospital for a year and is now supposed to be reintegrated into society. His father (Eric Tsang) takes him home, a small room in Hong Kong which they both have to share from that day onward. Like all the other people around Tung, his father, too, doesn't understand his illness. The father expects his son to become violent at some point, but Tung actually just wants to find a way back into life. The trigger for his illness has been the death of his mother (Elaine Jin), which according to a court's decision was an accident. Tung has taken care of his mother all by himself since his father left them and his brother emigrated to the US. He even gave up his marriage with Jenny (Charmaine Fong) for his mother, who he didn't want to send to a nursing home, even though he had to endure mental abuse by her. He now hopes to get back together with Jenny, but things aren't that easy. Moreover, he also realizes that his father didn't have an easy life either. He slowly establishes a relationship with him, but then his mental health gets worse again so that it almost becomes unbearable for his father who toys with the idea to hospitalize Tung again.

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Kung Fu Traveler - Film Screenshot 4

Story: In the future, Earth has almost entirely been conquered by invading aliens as they want the planet's resources. The last human military base in the world which hasn't been taken over yet is in China. General Chen (Tiger Chen) is the first man who manages to stand his ground against an alien. His martial art skills give him the edge. Since most knowledge about kung fu has been lost during the last century, though, it has to be retrieved from the past. The plan is to send a robot into 19th century China to learn kung fu and save the knowledge on a chip which is then used in the future to teach robots kung fu. Xu Zi Ying (Wang Zhi) is acually in love with General Chen, but he is already married. Therefore, she decides to give the time-traveling robot the face of the general and travel through time alongside him. Having arrived in 19th century it turns out that China has to fend off the French, and the robot who introduces himself as A Jie shows his exceptional skills against the French. But the master he is supposed to learn Southern Kung Fu from, Zhou Chenglin (Yang Zhe), isn't willing to take a disciple after his best student has fallen in the fight against the French. Now, the whole mission is in jeopardy.

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Kung Fu Traveler - Film Screenshot 4

Review: Why didn't I trust my gut feeling when I saw the trailer to "Kung Fu Traveler"? Cheap, stupid and an utter waste of time is what came to mind. But the positive surprise China managed to bring to screen in the shape of "Reset" convinced me to give another sci-fi movie from China a chance. Unfortunately, it turns out even right at the beginning that this is the kind of sci-fi bullocks that you normally would expect coming out of the country. The beginning already leaves you with outright physical pain, having to watch bad CGI-aliens. If you don't have money for great special effects cut them in half in regards to quantity so that they can look better! It probably still wouldn't have been enough, but it at least would have been a start. However, after the awkward introduction with overstylized, but shallow action things can only get better, right?

Kung Fu Traveler - Film Screenshot 5

The idea to send a robot into the past in order to learn kung fu, since it is the only thing that can take out aliens, is funny, but also completely ridiculous. Parallels to China's history in which foreign powers had to be fought back, even though they were equipped with firearms, is too obvious, yet the director can't hide the fact that the plot is simply rubbish. Making Tiger Chen ("Man of Tai Chi") play the robot isn't a bad idea since he isn't necessarily known for his acting chops. Naturally, it turns out that you can only learn real kung fu if you have attained enlightenment. And for this, on the other hand, emotions are needed. But isn't it actually the other way around and you should sever all mundane bonds in order to find the answer of all answers?

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Don't fool yourself. Although there would have been room to illuminate the philosophical side of martial arts the movie doesn't even scratch the surface. For the robot it's a piece of cake imitating any move and remembering it. Nonetheless, the director doesn't do a lot with this new way of training at hand. All in all the training sequences are rather pretty boring, and this although it actually is the whole mission. Wang Zhi plays the female lead who is in love with the general whose robotic double she now travels through time with. Somewhere there is supposed to be a hidden love story here, but the best part of the movie is that is actually is only hinted at. Still, the filmmaker constantly aims at forcing emotions out of the viewer. However, the characters are so shallow that even during the dramatic scenes there remains nothing but indifference in the viewer.

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Moreover, the science fiction aspect is pretty boring since there are merely elements of several well-known genre pieces put together. Then, there are the familiar Three Laws of Robotics by Isaac Asimov which are about to play an important role later on, and a villain no one cared to explain about how he exactly could turn up in the past and why he has supernatural powers. Towards the end things get quite dramatic and you ask yourself whether or not the heroes can deliver the chip in time. Wait a minute... They don't have to put the chip into a time machine, but simply deposit it at a certain location that works as a time capsule which will be opened 200 years later. So why the hectic cuts to the future at the end as aliens are already standing at the doorstep while everyone is waiting for the chip for a week already? The moment it was decided to send someone to the past (and at the latest when it was done successfully) the chip was already at the place where it was supposed to be!

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Since not even the most basic of time traveling rules has been understood by the filmmaker, and since the story in the past turns out to be soulless, the characters lack color and since on a technical level it should be criticized, next to the abysmal CGI, that the editing looks choppy and whole parts of the soundtrack have been cut off as we suddenly find ourselves in the next scene, we at least could hope for some neat action, right? Yes, you can hope, but you won't get it. The fights are completely unimaginative and to make matters worse are ruined by unnecessary use of wires and way too much slow-motion. Being produced for Chinese streaming service iQIYI this sci-fi flick may look like a cool idea on paper, but the end product is a complete and utter disappointment. There isn't even a showdown against the aliens in which spectacular kung fu moves are used to turn the tides of war. At least, this would have been cool on a B- or C-movie level.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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