Thursday, July 6, 2006

NINJA, PLEASE

Posted on Thu, Jul 6, 2006 at 4:00 AM

Kung Faux, Vol. 5
Studio: Dubtitled / Tommy Boy
WorkNameSort: Kung Faux, Vol. 5

Martial-arts films of the '70s have been a major part of hip-hop culture ever since Wu-Tang Clan all but singlehandedly revived interest in Saturday morning chopsocky. Quentin Tarantino may have helped give the films a patina of legitimacy, but rappers made the movies inextricable from the hip-hop lifestyle. The sociological implications are broad ' the themes of individualism within a strong but outcast group, the use of righteous violence ' but at the end of the day, RZA was just preaching what everyone always knew: These movies completely kick ass and are a blast to watch â?¦ especially when you're baked out of your mind.

That stoned-on-the-couch vibe permeates Kung Faux, a hip-hop homage to Hong Kong's finest that aired on cable network Fuse starting in 2003. 'Remixedâ?� to visually resemble either a video game or a really messed-up Charlie's Angels episode, Kung Faux compressed 90 minutes of martial arts drama into a half-hour of TV. With hip-hop stars like Jean Grae and Biz Markie as voice-over actors, the original dialogue was abandoned in favor of brand-new plotlines. A continuation of Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo? Check. Old man Simon Yuen talking B-boy smack? Yep. Totally disrespectful to the originals? Oh yeah.

That disrespect is precisely what makes Kung Faux so enjoyable. Though it's clear that everyone involved ' from the writers of the ridiculous new scripts to the creators of the eye-popping graphics that overlay nearly every scene ' has a deep love for (and knowledge of) the source material, they certainly have no compunction about reinventing these movies according to their own vision. Just as early hip-hop DJs and MCs used the records they loved ' disco, soul, reggae ' as source material for a bold and different sound, the creators of Kung Faux slice, dice and chop with gleeful abandon, their eyes focused sharply on the effectiveness of the end result.

That result is one of the most hilarious seasons of TV ever created. Though the concept would seem ripe for quick devolution into one-note redundancy, each of Kung Faux's 10 episodes seems fresh and bursting with the same insouciant attitude that made you start watching in the first place. And the one joke point ' the Chinese actor talking like a rapper ' that is milked endlessly honestly never gets old. (How can you not love a line like, 'It's boxcutta style, babyâ?�?) Add to that comic book'style graphics on the screen whenever someone gets hit ' 'Bitch-ass,â?� 'Boo-yah,â?� etc. ' and a general sense of playfully taking the piss out of both kung-fu stereotypes and hip-hop ones (one fighter uses 'projects styleâ?�), and you've got the ultimate TV mashup. Hearing a track by Paris play while a Chinese martial artist (re-)named Young Paris is getting his ass kicked is the sort of middle-culture postmodernism that would have made Derrida's head spin.

With the release of this fifth DVD volume of episodes, the entirety of the one (and only) season of Kung Faux is available for repeated, uncensored consumption. The inclusion of commercials is obnoxious, the extras are un-navigable and you're left with the sense that they could have fit the whole season's five hours on one disc (rather than five), but such concerns are easy to set aside while you watch an Elvis-looking character open up a can of whoop-ass on his enemies, while sounding suspiciously like Prince Paul.

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