'80s homage, absurdist, action-comedies, Andreas Cahling, cinema, computer hacking, crowdfunded films, Danger Force 5, David Hasselhoff, David Sandberg, dinosaurs vs Nazis, directorial debut, Eleni Young, Erik Hörnqvist, film reviews, films, foreign films, Frank Sanderson, Helene Ahlson, Jorma Taccone, Kung Fury, Leopold Nilsson, Lost Years, Mitch Murder, Movies, Patrik Öberg, retro-themed films, sci-fi, shorts, Steven Chew, Swedish films, synth scores, time travel, writer-director-actor
Is there such a thing as a perfect roller-coaster? While opinions may vary, I think there are a few key aspects that just about anyone can agree on. A perfect roller-coaster should have a balance of climbs and falls, straight shots and zig-zags: a roller-coaster that consists of one long, steady climb and a corresponding fall may be a great endurance test but it makes for a pretty poor roller-coaster. A perfect roller-coaster should feature plenty of surprise twists, turns and sudden swerves to the left and right: when done right, the only thing you should be anticipating is that big, final plunge into the abyss right before the cars stop and your heart thumps back into your chest. Perhaps most importantly, however, a perfect roller-coaster should be short and sweet. There’s a subtle (but definite) line between pummeling your senses and red-lining your adrenaline and being reduced to a quivering pile of bodily functions on the blessed pavement. The perfect roller-coaster should leave you shaken, giddy, a little unsteady on your feet and eager to jump right back in line and do the whole thing all over again.
In this spirit, writer/director/actor/tour de force David Sandberg’s 30-minute mind-blower, Kung Fury (2015), might just be the perfect cinematic roller-coaster. Over the course of its short and sweet run-time, Kung Fury wastes not one single minute and features not one wasted, repetitive or unnecessary frame. The effect is like mainlining Pixie Stix and Red Bull, a jittery, explosive and relentlessly inventive trawl through the very best of ’80s-era junk culture, all filtered through a brilliantly absurd worldview that allows for Triceratops-headed police officers, machine gun-wielding Valkyries riding giant wolves and massive, sentient, blood-thirsty arcade games. Kung Fury is what might happen if a teenage metalhead’s Trapper Keeper doodles suddenly sprang to life and it is, quite frankly, rather amazing.
Taking place in a 1985 version of Miami that most closely resembles the neon-and-pastel insanity of Grand Theft Auto, Kung Fury details the adventures of the titular hero (ably portrayed by Sandberg in a genuinely funny, flat-as-a-pancake delivery) as he attempts to travel back in time and stop the evil Adolf Hitler (Jorma Taccone), who has dubbed himself the “Kung Fuhrer” and plots to take over the world with his endlessly impressive kung fu skills. Since this is an ’80s parody, we get all of the standard tropes: Kung Fury is a renegade cop who refuses to be teamed with a new partner after the death of his last one (even though Erik Hornqvist’s Triceracops seems like a perfectly nice, polite dude); he’s got a tech-savvy helper (Leopold Nilssen’s outrageously mulleted Hackerman); the picture quality is constantly marred by static and missing footage; the main bad guy has an army of thousands of heavily armed, killers, none of whom could hit the broadside of a barn if their lives depended on it (which they always do); the acting ranges from amateurish to studiously awkward. Basically, if you grew up on ’80s action/kung fu films (or pretty much anything put out by Cannon), this will be the best kind of deja vu.
While Kung Fury is endlessly fun, full of the kind of giddy, stupid thrills and setpieces that pretty much every comic book/superhero/mindless action film aspires to, one of the most impressive aspects of the production is how damn good the whole thing looks on a ridiculously small budget. After crowdfunding failed to produce enough funds for a full-length, Sandberg and company opted to turn their idea into a short. The whole film was essentially shot in the Swedish filmmaker’s office, utilizing green screens for everything, and budgeted on such a shoestring that they only had one, shared uniform for the scene where Kung Fury wades into an ocean of Nazis. It looks cheap, of course, but by design, not accident. When necessary, the film is as fully immersive as any mega-budget Hollywood blockbuster, stock-footage wolf or not.
Since part of the sheer, unmitigated joy of the short is giving yourself over to its particular brand of lunacy, I’ll refrain from spoiling much more, although I could probably list my fifteen favorite moments and still have enough leftover material for at least fifteen more. Suffice to say that if you’re a fan of absurd fare like Danger Force Five, ’80s action films or bone-dry humor, Sandberg’s Kung Fury should steal a pretty massive piece of your heart. With a promised full-length version over the horizon (featuring no recycled footage which, in and of itself, is kinda mind-blowing), I have a feeling that we’re all going to be seeing a lot more of Sandberg and his inspired brand on insanity.
I still think that the perfect roller-coaster is a short, sharp shock to the system. I’m more than willing to let David Sandberg prove me wrong, however: if nothing else, Kung Fury has handily earned him that right. Too much of a good thing? Bring it on.