The Raid has set the bar for modern day martial arts film pretty darn high. The Indonesian film from the Welsh director Gareth Evans was a fabulously heady mix of frenetic, brutal, balletic, visceral, lucid and mesmeric storytelling. Then earlier this year came The Raid 2, and amazingly it managed to hit, maybe even surpass, such giddy heights once more, meaning that any other contemporary martial art films released, will now have their work severely cut out even to make par. Nevertheless,  Kung Fu Jungle is a more than worthy endeavour, as the latest action flick from the famous Hong Kong conveyor belt, directed by Teddy Chan and starring Kung Fu movie stalwart Donnie Yen.

In a nutshell, this is a Kung Fu/serial killer movie genre cross over.  Martial arts masters all over Hong Kong are being brutally murdered by a mysterious killer who’s using little more than his bare hands to send them to meet their maker. Hahou Mo (Donnie Yen), a police martial arts instructor, has been imprisoned for three years following an accidental killing, and upon hearing about these murders he strikes a deal with the police force; his freedom for helping to catch the dangerous killer. How could it possibly go wrong? 

Kung Fu Jungle sadly falls short of many of the fans of the genre’s sky high, expectations. Despite some spectacular action, stupendously choreographed set pieces and a plot line that could have leapt straight from the pages of a Frank Miller comic book, the film just feels a little underwhelming, a martial arts movie by numbers. The film lacked any surprises of note and it’s a challenge to invest in many of the characters. On the whole, the acting, when not being wooden, is a bit too hammy too, while the main antagonist in particular bore an almost constant gurn that made it seem as though he’d been force feeding himself lemons.

Meanwhile, the overly dramatic music accompanying unconvincing shocked expressions could have come straight out of a direct to video eighties martial arts film. It’s the kind of thing that you only really see nowadays in parodies, but here it was, up on screen with a straight face. That being said, ultimately with features of this ilk, you simply want to see some rip-snorting martial arts fun, and Kung Fu Jungle delivers by the bucket load. However that doesn’t stop you yearning for more. Maybe it’s all Gareth Evans’ fault, for there can be little doubt the fact that The Raid movies have taken the genre to the next level.  Even Enter the Dragon may not have the same appeal if watched in the present time.

Whereas once, hammy action and laughable acting would have cut the mustard as long as the action was rambunctious enough, a higher calibre of martial arts movie is now anticipated, and expected. You can’t help but crave a meatier script, believable acting and moments of genuine surprise and awe as well as the gloriously primal, limb snapping action.  Sadly, Kung Fu Jungle struggles to deliver on all fronts.