In a nod to the more popular SHAOLIN SOCCER (2001), Taiwanese director Kevin Chu and actor/singer Jay Chou bring to the mix a blend of kung fu and basketball.
Abandoned as a baby, Fang Shijie (Chou) is raised in a martial arts school. After the death of his first master (Eddy Ko), who dies while teaching the youngster a secret art form, his other four masters Fei (Bryan Leung), Wu (Ng Man-Tat), Huang (Huang Bo), and Ni (Yan Ni) are relegated to the background with new headmaster Wang Biao (Wang Gang) taking charge by making Fang his personal punching bag.
One night, Fang attracts the attention of street hustler Zhen Li (Eric Tsang) after seeing the young kung fu expert toss trash in the bin from afar. When the two guys go to a nightclub, Fang inadvertently upsets Brother Hu (Shaun Tam), who works for local gangster Bi Tianhao (Lee Li-Chun). A confrontation ultimately gets Fang expelled from the kung fu school because, lo and behold, Wang Biao has been in cahoots with the gangster and was bribed in gold bars.
Fang makes the fateful decision to find his real parents. Zhen decides to help him, but only if Fang is willing to play basketball. Fang does get enrolled at First University and with the approval of b-ball team captain Ding Wei (Wilson Chen) joins the team. However, having no real knowledge of the sport, Fang lacks the basic skills of the game. It takes Ding Wei, his sister Lily (Charlene Choi), and star player Xiao Lan (Baron Chan) to help Fang hone his skills. This comes especially when First’s top rivals, the Fireball team plan to annihilate them under the orders of Bi Tianhao.
While the 1983 soccer film THE CHAMPIONS combined sports and martial arts, it was the 2001 hit film SHAOLIN SOCCER that brought the trend of combining sports and kung fu. Japan even joined in the fray when SHAOLIN SOCCER star/director Stephen Chow produced the spin-off SHAOLIN GIRL, which combined kung fu and lacrosse. Now, it was Taiwanese director Kevin Chu Yen-Ping’s turn to combine sports and kung fu, in this case, basketball.
And who better to headline the film than fellow Taiwanese and future Kato Jay Chou? Chou plays it off well as Fang Shijie. Soft-spoken and a fish out of water in the sense that he never really knew life outside the martial arts school he was raised in, Chou channels the central character pretty decently here. Chou trained in martial arts for the purpose of entertainment and does well here in the action department.
Eric Tsang is always great to watch and here, as street hustler Zhen Li, proves that he still has it. Zhen at first only cares about the money and getting off the streets. However, as the film progresses, he truly proves to have a heart of gold. While Wilson Chen and Baron Chan do well as Fang’s basketball mentors, even though the characters face their own issues from death to rivalry, Charlene Choi’s Lily is sadly wasted. It is as if she is there for two reasons. One for the star power and two, to act as a potential love interest for Chou, yet the romance doesn’t really make an impact if at all.
In terms of action, who better to choreograph the film than the very same legend responsible for SHAOLIN SOCCER’s action? Tony Ching Siu-Tung’s impressive action resume continues here with wuxia-style dunking and some nice fistacuffs. To add a bit of fun to the mix, the appearances of Bryan Leung Kar-Yan, Ng Man-Tat, Huang Bo, and Yan Ni as Fang’s masters have fun on the b-ball court when they replace injured players in the final confrontation between rival teams First University and Fireball Team.
Ultimately, it will be known as another SHAOLIN SOCCER rip-off, but KUNG FU DUNK is actually a fun “sports kung fu” film that doesn’t need to take itself seriously. It is definitely worth a rental despite Charlene Choi being relegated to being wasted in her role.