I don’t know the first thing about Max Makowski’s work, so it’s entirely possible that the "Hong Kong-based" director is just the guy to bring the popular 1970s television series Kung Fu to the big screen. But until I have a better sense of his worthiness, I am going to make light of his presumed Polish ancestry because, to quote Albert Brooks in Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World, "Polish jokes work everywhere".
Even when the Hughes Brothers were assigned to the Kung Fu movie a year ago, I couldn’t understand why the bother. The show was a novelty even when I caught up with it in syndication during the early 1980s. Martial arts movies hadn’t saturated the American popular culture just yet (sure, they were around, but, aside from the films of Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris, you had to work to find them), so one hour of Kung Fu every evening was a godsend for kids hooked on good old chopsocky entertainment.
This was the same desperate rationale that made The Master and Sidekicks (the Ernie Reyes, Jr./Gerrit Graham series, not the Chuck Norris/Joe Piscopo feature film – though I did pay to see that theatrically) appointment television, but, like Kung Fu, they’ve long since passed out of fashion. Now that I have access to the entire oeuvre of guys like Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Sonny Chiba, I’ve no need to revisit these vintage TV series. And while Kung Fu might’ve been the best of the bunch, it wasn’t so wonderful that I need to see a big screen transfer.
What’s most perplexing about Legendary Pictures’ adaptation is their decision to set the narrative in China instead of the American West; watching Caine whup up on ranchers and prospectors was half the fun of the show. Remove that aspect, and you’ve just got a random, period martial arts epic that’ll probably draw unfavorable comparisons to the Once Upon in China series.
Fans of the show will probably be encouraged to learn that Howard Friedlander and Ed Spielman, two of the driving forces behind the original series, worked on earlier drafts of the screenplay; however, they’ve since been rewritten by Cory Goodman. I could throw some snark Goodman’s way, but a) he doesn’t have a Polish sounding last name, and b) I’m unfamiliar with his work. He could be the next Paddy Chayefsky for all I know. The last thing I need is to be on the wrong side of history after that whole Shalamar debacle. I thought I was so goddamn smart.
Warner Brothers will most likely distribute Kung Fu, which is, of course, being fast-tracked in anticipation of the strike. If it goes, it’ll probably be held for 2009.