Killer Imports is a regular feature on Film Junk where we explore foreign-language films from around the world that haven’t yet had their chance to shine.
Kung Fu Cyborg: Metallic Attraction opens with a promising title sequence. On a plain white background befitting a technologically sterile environment, a headless robotic body performs various human movements like training on a Wing Chun dummy and playing an erhu, a Chinese musical instrument. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie was rather disappointing although it does have a certain amount of charm.
I had not heard or seen anything about this movie when I noticed its clunky title on the DVD cover. Since the images on the cover were rather indistinct, I imagined either a martial arts Terminator wreaking havoc or an Ultraman-like hero dispatching evil-doers. What I got instead were Transformers in a meandering mess of a plot meant to please everyone. For the action fans, there are Transformer-capable cyborgs that use kung fu. For the comedy fans, there are some genuinely goofy, slap-stick comedic bits that kids might laugh at. For the intellectual fans, there are philosophical implications to contemplate. And for the sentimental fans, there is a love quadrilateral to be resolved.
Before I go any further, I should explain that I think this movie incorrectly uses the term â€œcyborg.â€ A cyborg is a human enhanced with robotic elements. The cyborgs in this film are more like androids. That is, completely mechanical beings that resemble humans. However, in some cases, it appears that the cyborgs in this film may actually incorporate human DNA. Anyway, the film doesn’t pay much attention to scientific plausibility, so I guess it’s pointless to debate terminology.
An incorruptible supervisor, Dachun (Hu Jun), of a team of cops is assigned to monitor a cyborg cop, K-1 (Alex Fong), by its creator, Lin Xiang (Eric Tsang). Sumei (Betty Sun Li) is a competent, nerdy team member who becomes the focal point of a love quadrilateral between K-1, Dachun, and a computer expert, Xiao Jiang (Ronald Cheng). Dachun’s animosity towards K-1 intensifies when he suspects that there is an attraction forming between K-1 and Sumei. Added to this mix is a rogue cyborg, K-88 (Jacky Wu Jing), who thankfully doesn’t involve himself in a love pentagon with Sumei, but rather is experiencing an existential crisis and must be dealt with. The denouement will determine the fate of cyborg-kind.
Sumei’s intelligence and self-assuredness comes across when she gives a police briefing. She sports a no-nonsense hair-do and unattractive eyeglasses. I bring these points up because it’s somewhat enlightening that the three male characters of the love quadrilateral have fallen for her without her having to go through some transformation. She does eventually dispense with the eyeglasses, but I won’t say anything more about this. I found Betty Sun Li’s facial expressiveness very attractive, and she was able to draw me in to her emotional states. Her acting at the end of the movie really touched me. I even watched the ending twice and she touched me both times.
K-1’s physical appearance reminded me of Jude Law’s Gigolo Joe android in A.I.. I don’t know if there is significance to the name. Could it possibly be a reference to the combat sport K-1? Maybe in Chinese, K-1 sounds like something that has some relevance. You know like how Dr. Who had a robotic dog named K-9. (Canine. Get it?)
Jacky Wu Jing is sort of wasted as the formidable K-88. Since K-88 more often than not transforms himself during battle, we hardly get to see Wu Jing’s martial arts skills. We do see him perform a fluid kata. For those unaware, Wu Jing is being groomed as the next Jet Li. He seems to get cast a lot as a villain. (This might not be so bad, since Jet Li did make an impact on American audiences with his role as a villain in â€œLethal Weapon 4.â€) K-88 somewhat parallels the Roy Batty character from Blade Runner. He has a desire to commune with his creator, and also extend his own life.
Some comedy relief is provided by Ronald Cheng’s character. I’ve seen Ronald Cheng in some other films and he reminds me of an Asian Pauly Shore. And as with Pauly Shore, I don’t understand his appeal. Interestingly, he’s also the co-composer of the film score. I like his music scoring better than his goofy comedic acting. But I suppose his goofiness appropriately matches the tone of the film.
Eric Tsang is the Asian equivalent to Samuel L. Jackson. That is, he’s an actor who seems to appear in many movies. And looking at the acting credits provided by IMDb, Tsang beats Jackson with 179 credits versus 127! Unusually, he wears a pained expression whenever he appears in his small role in this film. But who am I to question this actor’s acting choices considering the experience he has?
Although the film is set in 2046, everything in the film seems rather contemporary, beyond the existence of cyborgs and their technology. I don’t think there’s even an attempt to explain this. The year 2046 is significant in that Hong Kong’s independent capitalist system will end, but I’m inclined to think that the year 2046 was chosen as homage to Wong Kar-wai’s film, 2046, in which the film’s science fiction writer imagines a future in 2046 when a woman cyborg has conflicted feelings of love for a human.
Everything associated with the cyborgs is not treated in any realistic manner. The cyborgs are able to transform themselves into any type of machinery including large Transformer-like humanoids. In one instance, K-1 creates rosebuds in the palms of his hand, seemingly out of nothing. The abilities of the cyborgs seem to arise out of nowhere to service plot points or to set up humorous gags. It becomes apparent that there’s no use in trying to apply logic in following the plot, but I guess most movies fail in this department.
As an example of sacrificing realism for weirdness, K-1 transforms his hand to be able to shoot motion depressant drug darts from his fingers during one scene. When the drug dart hits a human, the human begins to move in slow motion, so you might think that the drug somehow affects the muscles. But then the human jumps off a ledge and falls in slow motion which makes you wonder how the drug is able to affect gravity. It is sort of cool to see this visual effect as an opponent takes advantage by beating the slow falling drug-induced victim to the ground level and delivering an uppercut as the victim lands at ground level.
With all of its storytelling flaws, this film partially redeems itself through its undeniably beautiful look. I’ve seen director Jeff Lau’s A Chinese Tall Story which didn’t seem overly beautiful, so I’m going to have to guess that the cinematographer Fung Yuen Man is responsible for the great look. Fung Yuen Man was the cinematographer most famously on Infernal Affairs. The lighting and frame composition during K-1’s pensive moments make up for the stillness in action.
The visual effects are done by Centro Digital Pictures Limited, which I believe is China’s equivalent to Lucas’ ILM. They did the visual effects for Kung Fu Hustle, and even did some work on Tarantino’s Kill Bill films. There is a major battle sequence between K-1 and K-88 that isn’t photorealistic like Michael Bay’s Transformer films are. There are some cool elements like seeing a nunchaku with metallic rods linked with electrical energy, but I wasn’t totally awed by the kung fu fighting cyborgs.
There is an interesting notion raised by this film concerning cyborgs that not even Isaac Asimov considered in his Laws of Robotics. I know that Asimov refined his ideas in further robot adventures, but I’m not sure if he ever dealt with â€œlove.â€ The ramifications of having a robot â€œloveâ€ a human, another robot, a thing, or even an idea can be dangerous. Consider the conflicts that arise when humans fall in love. Now I’m a computer programmer and I’m not even sure how I would go about detecting if a robot was in love, but it seems that this movie’s cyborgs have a built in fail-safe to handle this contingency. Cyborgs have programming that detects when they are falling in love and causes them to self-destruct!
Now as a human, you would have to make sure that you don’t fall in love with a cyborg. Think about it. By falling in love with a cyborg, you risk the cyborg falling in love with you. And taking what I said in the last sentence of the last paragraph, then you’d end up in a doomed relationship.
Would you (I’m assuming you’re human if you’re reading this) be able to fall in love with a cyborg? I think I would be able to. I mean, if it walks like a duck, and talks like a duck, then I’dâ€¦ (Well, I was about to use a crude fornication term that rhymes with duck, but I’ll dispense with the cheap laugh.) I think the much-maligned Chris Columbus film Bicentennial Man based on Isaac Asimov’s writings dealt with this issue nicely.
Not since Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn have I heard of a strange title for a film that was such a mouthful. And I believe if you go searching for this film, you’ll end up finding this movie under variations of the title I used, which came from the movie’s actual title splash frames. For example, â€œKungFuâ€ is shown as one word, but you might be more successful in your search if you add a space between â€œKungâ€ and â€œFu.â€
I thought the images on the cover of the DVD that I bought had sort of a spoiler in regards to showing how Sumei’s love for K-1 would resolve itself, but it turned out that the image on the cover is misleading as is the title of the film. I think many of you would consider this to be a â€œbadâ€ film, so I won’t recommend it. But I enjoyed it.
As a last note, K-1 whispers something into Sumei’s ear at a crucial moment in the film. If anyone who sees this film knows what he whispers, please send me an e-mail through Film Junk and let me know what he says.