KUNG FU JUNGLE (PG13)
100 minutes/Opens tomorrow/***1/2
The story: Jailed gongfu expert Ha Houmou (Donnie Yen) learns that one of his martial artist friends has been murdered. He strikes a deal with the lead inspector of the case Luk Yuen Sum (Charlie Young) - if he helps her solve the murder, she will get him an early release from prison. They cross paths with Fung Yu Sau (Wang Baoqiang), who is eager to reign as Hong Kong's ultimate gongfu master.
Part of the fun of watching this film is counting how many cameos you can spot.
Director Teddy Chan was not kidding when he said at a press conference that this movie is his tribute to Hong Kong action cinema - he must have gone to great lengths to gather the biggest names in martial arts cinema.
From veteran gongfu star David Chiang to Golden Harvest founder Raymond Chow and action choreographer Tony Leung Siu-hung, they show up in the most surprising of places, which makes the cameo-spotting exercise all the more amusing.
A small-time communications officer is played by director Kirk Wong of Crime Story (1993) fame, while the tiny role of a noisy truck driver is taken by car stunts expert Bruce Law.
Even little details in the background, such as the footage blaring on little TV screens, are of iconic Hong Kong gongfu movie scenes such as Jackie Chan in Drunken Master (1978).
The action star here with the biggest role is, of course, Yen, who reunites with director Chan after their impressive last outing Bodyguards And Assassins (2009).
Even at the age of 51, Yen is in fine form, kicking and punching with gusto. He gets a little full of himself at times, choreographing sequences where he has to fight his way through a dozen men at once without even getting a scrape, but they are all so quick-paced and entertaining that you can almost forgive him.
The best action sequence is appropriately left for the final fight, which is staged on a highway where massive, heavy trucks are speeding by. It is breathtaking to watch him roll and tumble between the vehicles as he attempts to kill his opponent without getting run over first.
As much as he has the gongfu skills, it is no secret that Yen lacks the chops in the acting department, so it is a relief that he leaves most of the emoting to Chinese Wang Baoqiang, who plays the deranged man out for his blood.
Wang, who received gongfu training in Shaolin as a child, is primarily known as a comedic actor (Lost In Thailand, 2012), but he delivers on both the drama and the action here. Whenever Yen is not doing his thang, Wang gets plenty of play on his own, showing off his moves in intense fights that take him from an art museum to a tattoo parlour.
The next time another director comes along to helm a love letter to the stars of Chinese-language action cinema, 30-year-old Wang could be among the creme de la creme.