The Kung Fu Master Review: Mildly campy, but impressive actioner
A solid martial arts film that makes you want to sign up for self-defence classes
Abrid Shine’s new film, The Kung Fu Master, is a complete contrast to whatever he has made before in that it is a very plain, straightforward work. The film’s progress from one development to the next is as simple as drawing a straight line from one point to the other. Abrid foregoes his usual experiments with screenplay structure in favour of an adrenaline rush this time. But it is not without its novelty factors.
Director: Abrid Shine
Cast: Jiji Scaria, Neeta Pillai, Sanoop D
There is a brother-sister duo, their family, a tragedy, and finally, revenge. The brother, Rishi, is played by newcomer Jiji Scaria and the sister, Rithu, by Poomaram’s Neeta Pillai. There is not much in the way of depth and character development here. These are simple, ordinary characters who happen to know kung fu. They’re just there to take the plot further. Take the main villain, Louis Antony (Sanoop D), a drug-snorting psycho who is also into meditation. He has this urge to calm himself through two different methods. He also makes love to two women. One is just not enough for him. The same goes for his crimes. He has 50 criminal charges against him, which he always manages to get out of with the help of efficient lawyers. He is a token villain, but Sanoop is convincingly menacing, even though he feels compelled to move each of his facial muscles to put that across.
The first half is devoted to exploring the personal lives of Rishi and Rithu, but there is not much warmth to be found in their communication due to the unnatural dialogue delivery. This is surprising because realistic performances were one of the highlights of Abrid’s last three films. Except for a sweet moment involving musician Sooraj S Kurup as a potential groom for Rithu, you don’t get a lot of believable performances here. I don’t know if this was intentional. Perhaps Abrid was going for the campy vibe reminiscent of the old B-movies made in China. Those old Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Jet Li films weren’t exactly known for their acting.
The events in The Kung Fu Master are set off by a mini Kill Bill-style massacre, and in spite of the unflinching intensity of this sequence, it’s a relief to see Abrid not dwelling too much on the tragedy. Melodrama is not one of these film’s priorities. The gloomy moments are wrapped up before the interval arrives. Abrid saves the film’s best moments for the second half, where one fight sequence is followed by another without much delay. Don’t bother going into the logic behind how Rishi and Rithu easily track down and dispatch each member of Louis’ gang. As I said, this film is more concerned about giving you an adrenaline rush than exercising your brain cells.
There are some high-voltage fight scenes, the kind you’ve seen previously only in Hong Kong or Indonesian martial arts movies. The form of kung fu depicted in the film is Wing Chun, and Jiji and Neeta deliver one applause-worthy punch and kick after another. Abrid stages their fights simultaneously, cutting back-and-forth between brother and sister. The blows are designed and staged for maximum impact. Jiji eliminating his opponents by delivering multiple blows with unimaginable speed is a jaw-dropping sight. But he also shows much promise as an actor. The Kung Fu Master is a fine testament to his leading man capabilities. I can’t wait to see what film he appears in next, and I hope filmmakers utilise his screen presence well.
I have a philosophy when it comes to martial arts films. For me, a solid — not necessarily great — martial arts film is one that makes you want to sign up for self-defence classes. The Kung Fu Master is one such film. Once I got out of the movie hall, I felt as though part of the heroes’ power has rubbed off on me. If that isn’t the sign of a neat action flick, I don’t know what is.