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Much is being made of the recent news about a Hollywood studio’s plans to remake Bruce Lee’s magnum opus, Enter the Dragon. Accordingly, much booing, hissing, and unbridled laughter has greeted this announcement. What movie-going audiences don’t realise is that Enter the Dragon already has been remade by a Hollywood studio, but it’s been cleverly titled Balls of Fury, so’s not to give away the secret (- and to get people to not boo, hiss, or unintentionally laugh).  

If left to the wisdom of Yours Truly, the tagline for this movie would’ve been, Balls of Fury: Not as Stupid as You Think It Is. It’s a pisser. It’s a fun, benignly outrageous good time with one of the most bizarre premises ever remade from a 1973 Kung-Fu flick. It begins with an early 80’s flashback: Ping-Pong prodigy Randy Daytona is on the verge of becoming the Olympic Champion of table tennis. Randy’s choke against the German champ ends up with Randy’s father paying the ultimate debt in his bet with a criminal mastermind and Randy’s humiliating retirement from professional Ping-Pong. Even his beloved Def Leppard cassettes can’t lift Randy out of the misery his life is 20 years later, overweight, burnt out, still rocking the 1984 Long Island metal-do, performing Ping-Pong tricks for dribbling seniors in Las Vegas supper clubs. When an FBI agent gives Randy a chance to avenge his father’s murder, you wonder what Randy’s got to lose. Still, in order to infiltrate the world of Feng, criminal deviant and table tennis connoisseur, Randy has to break out the paddles again and become the standout player that he was as a youth; this is the only way Randy will be invited to Feng’s estate where he’ll host a tournament for the world’s greatest Ping-Pong players. 

After a humiliating initial defeat, its obvious Randy needs a trainer and who better than the blind restauranteur and Ping-Pong guru, Master Wong, who too, has a bone to pick with Feng. But first Randy must prove himself worthy to be trained not only by Master Wong, but by Wong’s beautiful niece, Maggie, formidable with and without a paddle. After winning over the Wongs and the entire Chinatown table tennis community, Randy is on his way to face Feng. 

Sidebar: There are some movie stars who I’ll go see in anything. Doesn’t matter what they’ve made of their careers; feast or famine, fabulous or floundering, I’m still there. Just a handful off the top of my trunk include Ewan McGregor, Jackie Chan, Clive Owen, Owen Wilson (- stay strong, baby!), Tony Leung Chui Wai, Terence Stamp, Bae Doo-na, Godzilla and Christopher Walken. Chris Walken, whose very presence in a production is a feather in any director’s cap. More and more simply having Chris Walken in your film is an event in itself. His devout legion of fans mined over decades of ubiquitous appearances in varied and unlikely projects, will turn out because they know they can depend on Christopher Walken’s special and very imitable presence to make bright the most drab screenplay (- but, hey, even Chris’s formidable powers couldn’t have saved The Stepford Wives!). The bright folks behind the TV comedies, Reno 911 and The State have been canny enough to create a film with Walken as the centerpiece and selling point. Not that I doubt for a second that a movie based on the ultra-competitive world of Ping-Pong wouldn’t have rolled bank at the box office, but it’s always good to have a back up plan.

If Robert Ben Garant gave Walken any other direction than to tell him Feng is gay and wears fabulous outfits, it didn’t take. And really, with Christopher Walken, that’s all that needs to be said. If the sight of Chris Walken prancing about in full Liberace-meets-Ming-the-Merciless drag isn’t enough to pay for your nachos, then there’s no point in your sticking around for the 2nd half of the movie. Once the action moves to Feng’s estate, it’s all about Chris. For me, Feng’s endless costume and wig changes combined with Walken’s leering, customarily unfettered performance was exactly what put me in my seat. The entire segment Chez Feng was set up to let Walken do his thing. There’s even an homage to Walken’s role as Max Zorin in the James Bond film, A View to a Kill; for the big Ping-Pong showdown between Feng and Daytona, the men are strapped into electrode-laden armor that increases the voltage and the pain with every missed ball.  

Balls of Fury’s cast is a great ensemble of new and familiar names; Dan Fogler is the redeemed loser Randy Daytona. The chubby, long-haired Fogler brings charm to the role that would have come off strident and obnoxious in the hands of resident Hollywood overweight funny guy, Jack Black. George Lopez is the ambitious FBI agent who pushes Daytona to victory for both their sakes. Robert Patrick has a brief appearance as Daytona’s doomed father, and I’m always happy to see the T-1000. Jason Scott Lee dusts off his Bruce Lee accent (- and biceps – yow!) as a rival of Daytona’s. Aisha Tyler rocks her own fabulous outfits as Feng’s gorgeous executioner (- has no one considered this Amazon for the Wonder Woman feature?). The beautiful Maggie Q is a well known star in Hong Kong films, and her turn as Wong’s spunky, butt-kicking niece will have US fanboys at her feet – just what she’s always wanted, I’m sure. The other gifted casting move comes in the form of James Hong as Ping-Pong Master Wong, a lecherous take on the Karate Kid’s Mr. Miyagi. TV and film veteran Hong really gets to steal every scene he’s in with a lot of deserved screen time. All the actors seem to be having a great time and it shows onscreen. 

On the downside, there were a few moments where a few jokes seemed half-baked or rushed, as if Garant ran out of time to see a complete thought through; the lack of payoff between Daytona and his long-standing rival, German champion, Karl Wolfschtagg (Thomas Lennon) disappointed me. Stunted moments like that that made you wonder if the production ran out of budget. Clearly, most of the money here went on Chris Walken’s back, or possibly the nuns they had to pay for all his hair. 

Balls of Fury isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but, hey, I dug it. I’m all for the silly from time to time, and the Balls of Fury team balances their goofiness with enough clever homages to film genres I adore to keep it interesting. And hey, they’ve got Walken. 

 

~ Mighty Ganesha 

August 29th, 2007

 

PS: Hang around for the cast karaoke during the end credits. Life isn’t worth living until you’ve seen Christopher Walken croon Def Leppard’s Pour Some Sugar on Me. 

 

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Photos

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