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Metallic Attraction: Kungfu Cyborg (2009) IDWS



Kungfu Cyborg: Metallic Attraction should really be titled Alex Fong: Robot in Love. Director Jeff Lau (Chinese Odyssey 2002, plus many classic Stephen Chow films) and the participating production companies sell their action-comedy on the promise of kung-fu and CGI effects that resemble the Hollywood blockbuster Transformers. It's a hollow promise; despite possessing bits of both, the film doesn't satisfy in either the kung-fu or visual effects department, and instead goes mostly for love, padding out its running time with romantic shenanigans, crossed attraction, and that existential battle against your inner desires. Or something. Actually, Lau accomplishes a few minor things in Kungfu Cyborg that are unexpected and even notable. But are those things enough to mark this film as quality? Not really, no.

The year is 2046 and state-built robot K-1 (singer-swimmer Alex Fong Lik-Sun) is entrusted to the care of Xu Dachun (Hu Jun), a super-righteous and supposedly incorruptible cop stationed in the Chinese countryside. Unfortunately, Dachun is only righteous when it comes to crime, and totally hates K-1 because the robot catches the eye of Dachun's longtime crush, neighbor and fellow cop Zhou Su-Mei (Betty Li of Painted Skin). It shouldn't matter, because K-1 is programmed not to love, but that doesn't stop Dachun from looking to screw K-1 every chance that he gets. Meanwhile, Su-Mei finds the handsome and crazy coiffed K-1 (Fong sports a ridiculous pompadour like Jude Law in A.I.) mysteriously attractive, and minor bonds of romance form between the two. Left to fume in the background, Dachun decides that he has to make his move or lose Su-Mei forever. Who will win Su-Mei's heart, the super robot or the super dope?

Hold on. Isn't this movie called Kungfu Cyborg? Where are the martial arts? And why is the first half hour like some China remake of Making Mr. Right? The answer: unknown, but that's what Kungfu Cyborg is like, so the audience better get with the program, or they'll be risk unhappiness. However, any effort to avoid disappoint with the film may be wasted. Granted, the target audience in China may be forgiving because the actors are at least semi-popular if not actual stars, plus the film takes place in a recognizably rural China location and some of the gags are language or culture specific. However, those who watched the trailer thinking this movie would be the China version of Transformers may be put off by just how sporadic the visual effects and action are. Other than three decently sized set pieces combining action and effects, the film is a cheaply staged situation comedy, with Lau delivering some good gags and an equal amount of bad ones. Let's just say he bats .500 there.

Unfortunately, the film mixes its genres poorly, and delivers everything at an interminable pace. The film's extended romantic subplot between Alex Fong and Betty Li is conveyed through endless sidelong glances and silent navel-gazing, which combines with inconsistent shtick from Hu Jun and co-star Ronald Cheng to give the film the appearance of zero momentum. Some minor self-referential Jeff Lau humor keeps things marginally afloat (e.g., the appearance of Law Kar-Ying, or Lau's usual Wong Kar-Wai parodies), and the film finally perks up with the arrival of the first action sequence, which features K-1 and Dachun taking down a thief. The sequence offers some decent effects and visual gags, but once it ends its back to the romance storyline, with Dachun growing increasingly jealous of K-1, while K-1 wrestles with his growing emotions. Ronald Cheng plays yet another suitor for Su-Mei, and Gan Wei plays Su-Mei's wild-haired sister, who also figures into the romantic shenanigans as a fifth party. That means everyone in the featured cast is linked romantically.

Well, Wu Jing isn't – at least, not obviously. Wu plays K-88, a cyborg who questions his makers and decides to go rogue, resulting in murder and an eventual K-1 vs. K-88 showdown. That set piece is the second big effects sequence and the one that should get audiences buzzing because that's when the Transformers-aping effects start up. Centro Digital does an okay job with the visual effects, and the character models look more like Transformers from the TV cartoons than Michael Bay's big screen versions did. However, the effects are hurt by lousy staging; the CGI is usually separated from backgrounds and props via cutaways or blocking, and the scenes are also unnaturally dark. The final set piece is fun because it enlarges the scale of the fighting and throws in some cultural gags, but it's also completely nonsensical. Ultimately, the effects play less like integrated visuals and more like video game cutscenes between sitcom filler. The kung-fu is also disappointing. There's one small bit of slow-motion wushu from the barely-appearing Wu Jing, but beyond that there's little to warrant the word "kung fu" in Kung Fu Cyborg.

Then again, the Chinese title of Kungfu Cyborg doesn't even feature the words "kung fu", instead translating to "robot hero". That's a more accurate, if boring title and one that wouldn't cause unfounded expectations by an English-speaking audience. However, even if they hadn't gone for the bait-and-switch title, it may not have made a difference. Kungfu Cyborg is simply ill conceived, concentrating too much on its love story when it has more to work with. The actors are decent ones, but their performances are only notable for the novelty, e.g. Alex Fong as a romantic hero or Hu Jun as a comic cop. Where the film does surprise is in its non-romance plot threads, which positively portray an individual rebelling against his programming and breaking authority-imposed rules to preserve life or express love. Those ideas are not new ones, but considering the restrictions with which Chinese movies are made nowadays, it seems quietly subversive and even daring to write the film that way. If anything, Jeff Lau should get some credit for getting away with his themes. Too bad about the movie, though. (Kozo 2009)

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