Kung Fu League tells the story of Fei Ying Xiong (Ashin), a young comic book writer who pines for young Bao’er (Madina Memet) yet is unable to tell her how he feels. Fearing that he will lose her to his company’s head manager, he summons the help from four legendary Kung Fu masters—Wong Fei-hung, Ip Man, Huo Yuan Jia and Chen Zen—to teach him the highest levels of martial arts in an effort to win her heart.
Directed by Jeffrey Lau, Kung Fu League is a wild combination of action, comedy and romance that, thankfully, rarely takes itself too seriously. While the film offers some solid martial arts work, the primary focus of the film is its comedic and romantic storylines. As a result, the film’s tone lands primarily somewhere between unrequited relationship film and fish-out-of-water humour. As Fei Ying Xiong pines for his young love, the great Masters find themselves in increasingly bizarre circumstances as they attempt to navigate modern society. By bringing epic heroes like Ip Man and Wong Fei-hung into the present day, the film does as much as it can to undermine their classic ‘superman’ image. In doing so, however, the film finds a balance between lampooning and honouring the cultural icons, showing them for their bravery but also their archaic imagery. (In fact, one scene in a McDonalds is particularly hilarious as the martial arts greats struggle to pay for their dinner.)
With this in mind, the film also manages to poke fun at the stereotypes of toxic masculinity by showcasing kung fu’s most masculine heroes in surprising subplots. For instance, while all four men demonstrate their sheer masculine power by defeating multiple thugs along the way, they also struggle with their emotions. Though they fight for honour and love, they also feel lost within themselves as they attempt to make sense of how they fit into this new world. (In fact, in several instances, feelings of romantic love between the Masters are suggested, an idea which would kick against their hyper-masculine images.) Interestingly though, the film ends on a note that highlights the power of dominating the other person, which is surprising given the way the film unfolds. Despite League’s interest in usurping the hyper-masculinity of the martial arts legends, it somewhat undoes its own argument in the end by allowing might to rule. As such, even though the climactic battle is entertaining, the film leaves a bit of a missed opportunity to speak to current issues on the table.
Nevertheless, by showcasing some of kung fu’s greatest cinematic heroes in unusual circumstances, the film still manages to get the laughs that it seeks. Entertaining and wild, Lau’s film packs a comedic punch that gives the audience what they want.
Kung Fu League is available on DVD and Blu-Ray now.