Paunchy Hong Kong action-movie star Sammo Hung kicks and chops the bad guys into submission in this goofy, extravagantly choreographed melding of lighthearted drama, cartoony fisticuffs and cheesy Asian stereotyping. If Dennis Franz were born in Shanghai, this is probably how he would have wound up.
Despite being a one-ton wonton, Hung is the real deal, his barrel chest and excess poundage belying some lightning fists and feet. He shuffles around with a deadpan expression and a propensity to garble the English language just enough to be virtually a walking malaprop. But the man knows how to fight, using everything from a chalkboard eraser to a 2-by-4 to smash the bad guys.
He’s a hoot to watch in the pilot, but by the end of the hour it’s clear the concept has already grown old. Show stars Hung as Sammo Law, a Chinese lawman brought to L.A. and paired with a couple of overly pretty detectives (Louis Mandylor, Tammy Lauren) to track and crack the faces of various stock Asian crooks.
He’s naturally a total mystery to his partners, who don’t quite get how a man can fight like Chuck Norris while looking like the second coming of Buddha. It doesn’t help that he speaks in clipped monosyllables.
Carlton Cuse, the exec producer who wrote the pilot, tosses a lot of “Batman”-style bash and pow into the opener, with director Stanley Tong using every bad martial arts B-movie cliche to maximum preposterous benefit. At least we don’t hear a Chinese gong ring every time Hung appears on screen.
The plot itself is naturally secondary to the comedic interplay and hyperactive depictions of bone crunching bone. But if “Martial Arts” is going to fly anywhere near as high as Hung’s lethal limbs, it will probably need to toss a tad less against the wall.
The premiere seemingly includes every piece of film they shot, using even the outtakes as bumpers between commercials.
It’s all in keeping with the zany spirit of an hour that has no higher agenda than to be entertaining, revving its fight sequences up to 78 RPM and pouring on the dopey sound effects. Hung is funny in a rather solemn way, and his co-stars stay out of his face well enough while establishing hammy personas of their own.
Tech credits are spiffy.