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||IMDB Rating: 6.9/10 from R votes
||Release: 01 Nov 1989 /
||Director: Agnès Varda,
||Synopsis: Mary-Jane asks, Do all women fall in love with a boy, or just those without sons? She's divorced with two daughters, Lucy and Loulou. Lucy has a party where Mary-Jane notices Julien, 14, ...
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The idea for "Kung-Fu Master" was proposed by Jane Birkin in Agnès
Varda's tribute documentary to her, "Jane B. par Agnès V." (1987).
Birkin suggests a film in which a 40-year old woman would fall
hopelessly in love with a teenage boy, suggesting herself and Varda's
and Jacques Demy's son, Mathieu, for the leading roles. That very same
year, the idea would develop into the rapturing, bewitching, winning
"Kung-Fu Master", a film unlike any other ever made.
Mary-Jane (Birkin), 40, divorced, independent, living with her two
daughters (her real-life daughters, 16-year-old Charlotte Gainsbourg
and 5 year-old Lou Doillon), suddenly finds herself terribly attracted
to one of her daughter's schoolmates, 14-year-old Julien (Mathieu
Demy), and vice-versa. From then on, Mary-Jane and Mathieu find the
unlikeliest ways to meet (including Mary-Jane bumping her car on Julien
on purpose!) as they face love's highs and lows, trying to make it
thrive against society's ponderous prejudices and Julien's own
inevitable "growing up".
The film is a hoot from start to finish. The title is a reference to
the Arcade video game, where a Kung-Fu Master must endlessly fight
increasingly dangerous obstacles and enemies (as must Julien and
Mary-Jane) to save his captive sweetheart, who is kept tied up,
perennially crying for help. The opening sequence of the film, in which
Mathieu Demy in full Kung-Fu costume skilfully simulates the robotic
choreography of the video game hero is delightfully funny and wins you
at once. The dialog sparkles with jeux-de-mots and a mix of English and
French sense of humor.
Jane Birkin was probably never more beautiful or appealing than here,
her angular, bony beauty serving her emotional transparency and
complete commitment to her role. Mathieu Demy, inexperienced, is
nevertheless charming, well-cast and never phony in his difficult role.
Varda's direction of her own son is amazing: it looks as if she's
discovering his acting potentialities and the first signs of manhood
along with Mary-Jane and ourselves. The cast includes Birkin's family
(parents, siblings, nephews, daughters etc), who appear nonplussed with
the touchy issue and ultimately even help the odd couple. Charlotte
Gainsbourg shines with her urchin face, special talent and sensibility;
she's a natural. Baby Lou Doillon is lovely throughout, adding to the
feeling of spontaneity that gives the whole film a slightly magical
touch, as if we were watching improvised scenes, not scripted ones.
Mary-Jane's and Julien's scenes together are far from risqué, but
filled with emotional rapture, originality, humor. Sex is implied, but
never at the core of things; love -- romantic, throbbing,
unconventional love -- is.
"Kung-Fu Master" is a fable about the nature and possibilities of
romantic love in obtrusive circumstances, and MAYBE it hints that
women, girls and boys are better suited for it than grown-up men (which
is probably true!). When Mary-Jane and Julien go to a desert island so
that they can fully experience their love far from society's burden, we
can see why they're at once sacred (they're pure, unbiased by interest,
conventions, hypocrisy) and doomed (their love can only exist fully and
freely away from conventional society). The film's ultimate goal may be
to translate women's infinite, inexhaustible talent for loving and
teaching love, regardless of how unlikely the object of their love is,
or how powerful the enemies, or how complicated the obstacles; women
are the invincible, undisputed Kung-Fu Masters of love, even if/when
they don't win.
This is arguably Varda's and Birkin's finest hour; they have made a
film that is a triumph of poetic sensibility filled with humor and
intelligence; it's a tribute to feminine pride (no man could EVER make
a film like this). Enchanting from start to finish, always surprising,
never tacky or schmaltzy, "Kung-Fu Master" is a one-of-a-kind film just
waiting to be (re)discovered -- but most likely destined to be locked
away, in these hypocritical PC times of ours that furiously prevent
renewed access to films as brave as this unless they're scandalous
(which KFM is not). If you can find it, do see it by all means: and pay
special attention to the beautiful, subtle, rich finale. Beware,
though: "Kung-Fu Master" may be hazardous to your cynicism and
conventionalism, and may restart your belief in l'amour fou.
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