After years of production and massive internet hype, the Swedish short film Kung Fury finally hit audiences with all its martial arts, Nazis, Vikings, dinosaurs and of course David Hasselhoff.
Written and directed by David Sandberg, Kung Fury is the 30-minute sensational over-the-top retro-cheesy 1980s throwback actioner that is an hommage to everything that was cool in the movies in the 80s. The film was notable already before its release, having had both a hyped trailer and a virally successful music video starring David Hasselhoff, which each were seen by over 10 million times before the film launched. With so much hype, the fall is potentially a disaster.
Kung Fury is a Miami police detective and martial artist who timetravels from the 1980s to World War 2 to kill Adolf Hitler, aka “Kung Führer”, to avenge his friend, who was killed by the Nazi leader. An error in the time machine sends Fury further back to the Viking Age. With the help of a female Viking, a barbarian woman and the Norse god Thor, Kung Fury continues his time travels in order to put an end to the Third Reich once and for all.
The story and concept of Kung Fury is not hard to grasp, but it would be an injustice to the film and its director to not approach the film in full seriousness. Granted, the film is all about fun and ridiculous cinema, but it is not a film that should be taken lightly. It’s ambition is very high and the premise is so surreal that ordinary rules almost do not apply. Genre pastiches is a genre of its own, but David Sandberg has taken parodies, hommages and tributes to a new level in this film, which was produced on a small budget and doubles as a showreel for his many talents. While movies such as The Naked Gun, Hot Fuzz and Austin Powers were funny parodies which could be taken in without having seen too many cop films or Bond adventures, Kung Fury is so deeply rooted in 1980s TV and B-movie cinema that it can not exist outside the references of its own universe. Basically, Sandberg threw in everything that was great in the 80s; Miami Vice, The Terminator, Tron, Street Hawk, Automan, Transformers, He-Man, The Golden Child, Saturday morning superhero cartoons, graphic gore, one-man armies, arcade video games, superpowers from freak accidents, catch-phrases in stead of dialogue, barbarian films, MicroBee home computers, MC Hammer, Nintendo Power Glove, big hair rock bands, super-synthesized soundtracks, curvy women in fur, low-tech high-tech, Knight Rider, Karate Kid, Die Hard, Back to the Future… and those are just the things you spot right away. All the crazy-ass gonzo ideas he could think of cooked into one big, 30 minute long showcase of home video goodies of the past. If you grew up on a diet of 1980s action films and B-movies, you’ll be fully occupied spotting all the clues, as every frame is jampacked with insane special effects, references and style. Kung Fury is a genre mash-up galore, with no boundaries respected; time travel, Nazis, dinosaurs, Vikings, Norse mythology, Asian codes of honour, the list is endless. Headbands, brick-sized cellphones, buddy cops, Italian supercars, grainy home video images, faulty video cassettes – it’s all there, and then some. Ever heard of a Tricera-Cop? Now you have. And I never knew that LaserRaptors lived in the Viking age. Thank you Kung Fury for learning me that.
Fortunately, there are not only great concepts, but it’s all coming together in perfect harmony. While the story itself is beyond any reason, it is told with efficiency, with no time wasted, no padding scenes, no superfluous establishment shots. There is a slower part where two Swedish comedians mock eachother’s Nazi moustaches, but the scene is not too slow, and serves as a breather in an otherwise rollercoaster-paced film. I am not sure the two comedians will come across as particularly funny to non-Swedes who does not know their previous work, but on the other hand, the entire movie is a round-up of American pop culture, and I’m not sure all Americans realize how wonderfully cheezy some of their half-old cultural heritage is. Part of Sandberg’s genious in the film is his ability to pick and choose the best influences, the icons, the Hollywood exports that made a mark on the world, sometimes below the radar, and inject them with Viagra. It is possible that only a foreigner could do this in such an unpretentious, maximized and unhindered way, as American attempts at retro genre cinema like Black Dynamite and Machete were totally different beasts. If anything, Kung Fury is somewhat similar to another Scandinavian martial arts inspired 1980s hommage, Norwegian Ninja, which also employed low budget effects in a completely spaced-out story.
Sandberg’s experience as a music video and commercials director show, although not in a bad handheld MTV way. The editing is tight, without being stressful, and the cartoonish images and sequences are composed to get maximum enjoyment and screen time from props, sets, characters and special effects. The attention to detail is stunning, down to bad acting and poor voice dubbing, but keep in mind that the special effects and graphics are intentionally low quality, as a retro movie must have. The greatness of the effects is rather in how well they project a feeling of the era they’re supposed to remind of. The 1980s had many practical and visual effects that are not mimiced in this movie, such as huge prosthetic and mechanical monsters, and the CGI used gives a slightly different aura to many of the effects sequences (which are practically the entire 30 minutes), but this is not a technical excercise in making a movie look old; rather it is a throwback to that feeling, that practice of blending not-yet-mature VFX and SFX and inventing new methods on the way. Methods that didn’t always look good, but hey, they worked!
The only complaint; why isn’t the film made in the 4:3 format? That’s made up for by the puppy getting away, however.
It’s clear that director David Sandberg is serious about his exaggerated action, sci-fi and fantasy hommage. He went all the way, no holds barred, and could have given us a film with lots of nuances, subtleties and ironic reflections from the decade of Cannon films and Jean-Claude van Damme. In stead, we got a seamless time capsule, made 30 years after the fact, which effectively is a big wet kiss on the lips of 1980s action entertainment, unlike anything ever produced in Sweden or the rest of the world. Nu-nostalgia at its best, but the brilliance is not just in how Sandberg pulled it off with a very small crew and limited funds, but in how he clearly shows shows affection and respect for a decade that thanks to Kung Fury no longer deserves mockery for its mullets, roundkicks and VHS tracking. I predict that within two years, Sandberg will have directed a major Hollywood production, maybe under the wings of Quentin Tarantino, but personally I hope he keeps directing insanely cool trash like this.
Directed by David Sandberg.
Rated 10 of 10.