A China-backed "Transformers" ripoff.

Hong Kong genre-mulcher Jeff Lau (“A Chinese Tall Story,” “A Chinese Odyssey”) weighs in with a China-backed “Transformers” ripoff that will have hardcore action fans holding down the fast-forward button to get to the meat. Typically playing with auds’ expectations (juiced by the title and action-heavy trailer), “Kungfu Cyborg: Metallic Attraction” is more a quirky comic tale of robot love than a pedal-to-the-metal f/x feast, and viewed in that light, it’s thoroughly engaging, thanks to lead perfs by mainlanders Hu Jun and Sun Li. Pic hauled in a warm $7.5 million in China in August, but tanked in Hong Kong.

Xu Dachun (Hu), head cop in a picturesque small town in Zhejiang province, is asked by TN Research head Lin Xiang (Hong Kong’s Eric Tsang, gratingly unfunny) to road-test his latest android, K-1 (Alex Fong), by giving the droid a place on staff. K-1 promptly falls for cute female cop Zhou Sumei (Sun), for whom Xu has been carrying a torch ever since her late father asked him to look after her.

With his superpowers, K-1 helps out Xu on one mission, but Xu is still leery of the android, who was never programmed to deal with love. Only at the halfway mark, when K-1 has to deal with a rogue cyborg, K-88 (mainland martial-arts star Wu Jing), and “saves” Xu’s life by turning him into a robot as well, does the real action kick in. K-1 ends up even more confused when he gets a lesson in robot’s rights from K-88.

Script is littered with jokes about Chinese movie stars and even references to Lau’s erstwhile filming partner, Wong Kar-wai — the film is set in, uh, 2046 — but at heart, it’s a genre riff on human-vs.-android feelings, and whether there’s much difference between the two. As K-88 notes, “God created Man and Man created machines. Man can question God, so why can’t machines question Man?”

Hu (“Red Cliff”) is looking increasingly relaxed in lighter roles, and here he’s nicely partnered with up-and-coming Sun (“Fearless,” “Painted Skin”), whose likable work in the central role keeps the pic interesting during down time. Fong, with an Elvis hairdo and a pasty android face, is too constrained by his emotionless role; Wu has more physical presence in his scattered appearances.

“Transformers”-like effects are smoothly done, and Edmond Fung’s widescreen lensing of the traditional-looking Ningbo locations are always well composed. Other credits are all quality. Chinese title simply means “Robot Hero.”

Kungfu Cyborg: Metallic Attraction

China

Production

A China Film Group release of a www.letv.com, Beijing Xiaoma Benteng Film & TV Culture Development, Xi'an Mei Ah Culture Communication, Shanghai Film Group, Xi'an Qujiang Film & TV Investment Group, Beijing Xin Ying Lian Film Co., Zhejiang Le Shi Zhenwei Film & TV production. (International sales: Infotainment China, Beijing.) Produced by Zhuo Shunguo. Executive producers, Jia Yueting, Li Ming, Li Kuo-hsing, Ren Zhonglun, Wu Tianming, Huang Qunfei. Directed by Jeff Lau. Screenplay, Kei On.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Edmond Fung; editors, Angie Lam, Wong Wing-ming; music, Mark Lui, Ronald Cheng; production designer, Bill Lui; art director, Liu Jingping; costume designer, Zhao Zhiying, Zou Jianhua; sound (Dolby Digital); visual effects, Xian Tao Digital; visual effects supervisor, Ma Yongan; second unit camera, Choi Man-lung; assistant directors, Lau Wai-keung, Chan Ho-ming. Reviewed on DVD, London, Oct. 29, 2009. (Also in Tokyo Film Festival -- Winds of Asia-Middle East.) Running time: 102 MIN.

With

Hu Jun, Sun Li, Alex Fong, Gan Wei, Ronald Cheng, Wu Jing, Eric Tsang, Law Ka-ying. (Mandarin dialogue)
Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more