Something of an heir to the Dada silliness of Kung Pow: Enter the Fist, this romp through martial-arts genre history is more straight-faced about its game playing, but it’s also decidedly less gonzo. To be frank, it’s amazing that something this blatantly cheap-looking received a wide theatrical release, but the barebones look of the film—very apparent blue screen backgrounds and sloppy concealing edits abound, and there’s a Ferris wheel explosion sequence I’m pretty sure I could have animated myself with Microsoft Paint circa 1997—is part of the film’s juvenile charm. Deliberately inane humor is about as subjective and acquired a taste as any, but even if the film isn’t your bag, you can’t deny that it doesn’t front.
An opening narration explaining the background of our taciturn hero, Yang (Dong-gun Jang), employs comic-book text graphics so as to underscore the instantly recognizable silliness of the proceedings, only to drop the gag for good; the remainder of the film winks at the audience more implicitly through preposterous set pieces and endearingly over-the-top acting, equal parts sincere fanboy indulgence and anything-goes genre riffing (props to big names Kate Bosworth and Geoffrey Rush for putting their game faces on without reservation). The plot is deliberately filled to the rim with clichés (lone warrior with a target on his head, orphaned baby in need of protection, corrupt villain putting the squeeze on innocent townsfolk, former partners now rivaling to the death, etc.), but to writer-director Sngmoo Lee’s credit, they all feel more or less organic in context. The action is never quite viscerally satisfying (save for a bodacious sequence involving an unmanned machine gun in a darkened hallway, most of the ass-kicking weight is pulled by the boys in the editing room), but it gets by plenty on sheer outlandishness, at its high point seeing cowboys, ninjas, clowns, and a little person (the great Tony Cox, phoning in a reprise from Bad Santa) going apeshit in an Old West town square. Fittingly stated by my nearest fellow moviegoer (who, for what it’s worth, sounded eerily like Seth Rogen) upon the outset of the end credits: “That was completely retarded, and I would absolutely watch it again.” Indeed.