Anna in Kung Fu Land (2003)
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An Na Yu Wu Lin (Anna in Kung Fu Land) (Wai Man Yip, 2003) There is something about the “guy with a girlfriend falls for someone else and gets stuck in the middle” plot that really nags at me. It's a dick move on the guy's part, needless to say, and for a writer (in this case The Great Magician's Ho Leung Lau) to use it as comedy fodder always strikes me not only as lazy, but as a way to set yourself up with a very unlikable hero and two leading ladies who have the capacity to devolve quickly into jealous, nagging shrews. So as soon as Ken (Vampire Effect's Ekin Cheng) gets back from Japan, where he's just recruited Anna (Three...Extremes' Miriam Yeung Chin Wah) for a martial arts tournament he's setting up in part by offering her up one of the hottest screen kisses in recent memory and we find he's got a girlfriend... ugh. And yet somehow, and despite the fact that I went into this with pretty low expectations given both its place in my sorted Netflix queue (in the bottom 20%) and its rating on IMDB as I write this (4.5), I ended up... not hating it. It's certainly not the best piece of moviemaking I've seen this month, but it was relatively charming, high up in the eye candy department, and has good enough comic timing to keep me chuckling throughout. I've already given you the first half of the plot above: Ken heads off to recruit Anna, the daughter of the last guy to win a major martial arts tournament that fell into obscurity, so she can compete in a newly-revamped version of it backed by an energy-drink billionaire. Then we get home and find out he's got a girlfriend. So he tries to pass each girl off as his best friend's girlfriend to the other, leading to some odd, awkward scenes that still manage to be amusing. Then comes the tournament, with a subplot about an American producer who's looking for someone to star in a martial arts movie, but the second half of the movie is all about the tournament. If you've read YuYu Hakusho, you know pretty much everything you need to about the tournament, from the crazy competitors to the ridiculous finishing moves. Given the movie's structure (manufactured drama followed by big-ass tournament), it sort of begs comparison to Warrior, released a decade later and played seriously where this one goes for laughs. While empirically there is no doubt in my mind that Warrior is a better movie by any metric you can measure, the two movies exist to satisfy two separate audiences. Warrior is a drama that also happens to be a sports movie, while Anna in Kung Fu Land is a sports movie that also happens to be a comedy. It's a subtle distinction at times, but it's important in how you approach the movie and whether you're willing to buy Anna's compete dispensing with reality by halfway through the movie. Since I already had a frame of reference—YuYu Hakusho was one of the first series manga I glommed onto when I started getting back into comics a decade ago—I saw exactly where this was coming from and was more than happy to go along for the ride. Your mileage may vary (but then again, that just means you should probably go read YuYu Hakusho). ***
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