GUY #1: “Hey, who was that lady I saw you with last night?”
GUY #2: “That’s no lady, that was my wife!”
The key to “understanding” Vaudeville staple jokes like that is to realize that they were told over and over, night after night, by comic after comic and were still basically funny. Simple joke, doesn’t even have to be especially well-told to work. Just has to be, because the audience already knows the joke, thinks it’s funny and is endeared to the comic who tells it for agreeing with their sense of humor and expectations. “Balls of Fury” is kind of like that. It’s premise gives away the entirety of the film almost immediately: It’s a comedy about a secret underground ping-pong competition, staged in the framework and trappings of a B-grade “kung-fu tournament” movie. If you can conjure a basic picture of what that might look like, and it amuses you, so will the resulting movie even though it’s obviously not the “best” telling of it’s own joke possible.
The advertisements want you to think of it as something along the lines of a “Dodgeball” sports-spoof, but the actual film is aimed best at a smaller niche: Ironic-appreciators of bad 80s U.S. martial arts films. Genre mainstays like James Hong, Jason Scott-Lee and Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa are onhand in mostly-straight versions of the kind of roles they can do in their sleep. If you A.) recognize Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa by sight, B.) know who he his by name and not “that one Asian guy and C.) are glad to see him, you will like this movie.
The plot concerns a secret, underground, high-stakes, life-or-death table-tennis tournament overseen by a Triad arms dealer Feng (Christopher Walken in full “It’s Funny Because I’m Christopher Walken” mode.) A government agent (George Lopez in the first time I’ve EVER found him funny) recruits a onetime disgraced ping-pong prodigy (Dan Fogler) for training under a blind Chinatown ping-pong master (James Hong) and his niece (an unspeakably sexy Maggie Q, hotter than any woman that skinny has any right to be) to help inflitrate the contest, which holds dual significance for Fogler’s hero: The champ-to-beat is a German rival (the great Thomas Lennon) from his past, and Feng (what else) killed his father.
Fogler is a natural comic lead, the premise easily sustains a movie’s worth of jokes and all-in-all it’s good for laugh. The Asian actors, Hong especially, seem to be having fun doing deadpan-parodies of the cheesy roles they so often wind up playing in the “serious” films this is spoofing. Granted, Hong has been “in” on subverting Asian stereotypes for laughs since way back in “Big Trouble in Little China,” and Tagawa grimmaces with unmistakable “yeah, it’s me” conviction. But it’s fun to see Lee get to cut loose as a heavy, and Maggie Q demonstrably “gets” both the appeal and the absurdity of the “itty-bitty Asian girl as icy high-kicking fetish doll” routine. And Walken, well… Walken has honed this bit with such expertise that at certain points his “dialogue” consists of a series of improv-ish mumbles and/or strange, suggestive eye movements and somehow it’s still funny. (Feng on a pet Panda: “Sleeping… I think. Could be dead… I dunno. Not really sure… what they, y’know, eat. Anyhoo…”)
This one’s pretty easy, folks. Go watch the trailer. If you laugh, you’ll like the movie.
FINAL RATING: 6/10