There comes a point in every person’s life where they go through a karate phase. This usually involves randomly kicking the air, but may eventually evolve into an interest in nunchucks. It normally goes away as kids grow up with one exception. For many, the love of kung fu movies leaves. Iron Fists and Kung Fu Kicks is a 2019 documentary that looks at the history of the popular genre.
Most documentaries will take their time explaining their subject. They will introduce themes and characters while drawing audiences into the story being told. Moving too quickly may leave viewers unfamiliar with the subject confused or even bored. Whether it is a documentary about racial division or heavy metal, pacing is rarely an issue.
Kung Fu Kicks unusual (for a documentary) tempo is part of its charm. There are a lot of tropes associated with kung fu flicks. One is the lightning quick pace. Director Serge Ou’s documentary moves as quickly as the genre being studied. Talking heads hit the screen in rapid fire succession as scenes from kung fu classics play in between.
Kung Fu Kicks is as fast as a sudden strike to the throat but it as smooth as a jumping back leg front kick to the groin. Scenes move quickly, but never feel rushed. The pacing and amount of information should be overwhelming. Instead, the documentary does a great job of explaining the genre’s history.
Kung Fu Kicks does a great job of being funny and informative. Along with showing the unintentional laughs kung fu movies are known for, the film delivers true comedy. The segment dedicated to “Bruce-ploitation” films is particularly good. The number of interview subjects is also impressive. Ou clearly loves the genre and did a wonderful job of picking interviewees. Topics ranging from gender equality to Game of Thrones are all intelligently discussed.
The film’s pacing also apes a negative aspect. Even the best kung fu movies will suffer from tedium due to randomness. Scenes play out for too long or feel out of place. Usually, these are seen as comical and even add to a movie’s mystique. In Kung Fu Kicks, it feels as if the movie is reaching for ideas.
The movie is moving along at a nice clip until it attempts to tie the genre into the blacksploitation films of the 1970s. At first, it makes sense. The movies played at midnight screenings and were very popular. Things start to fall off the rails when the documentary goes into cultural impact. It is not so much that it is wrong, it just seems like it is thrown together. Even comments from Fab 5 Freddy only slight touch on the point that is trying to be made.
This becomes even more noticeable when Kung Fu Kicks attempts to connect modern day parkour with Shaw Brothers classics and the imitators they spawned. Famous traceurs barely give lip service to martial arts movie. It is very slipshod and takes the audience out of the documentary. Again, there may be a direct correlation between the two, it just is not explained well.
Iron Fists and Kung Fu Kicks is a clever documentary. It is not just a simple history of kung fu movies. It delves deeper into the genre’s earliest beginnings while also aiming to demonstrate its effects on today’s culture. Some things come across better than others, but it is an overall fun film. Even those who have not watched a kung fu movie since their younger days will enjoy Iron Fists and Kung Fu Kicks.
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