7.0/10
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7 user 19 critic

Kung-Fu Master! (1988)

Kung-fu master! (original title)
Trailer
2:09 | Trailer
Mary-Jane, a lonely mother in her fourties, get absorbed in a sentimental affair with a 14 years old boy.

Director:

Agnès Varda

Writers:

Jane Birkin (story), Agnès Varda
Reviews
1 nomination. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Jane Birkin ... Mary-Jane / mother
Mathieu Demy ... Julien
Charlotte Gainsbourg ... Lucy / Mary-Jane's daughter
Lou Doillon Lou Doillon ... Lou / Mary-Jane's daughter
Gary Chekchak Gary Chekchak ... Un jeune / A young
Cyril Houplain Cyril Houplain ... Un jeune
Frank Laurent Frank Laurent ... Un jeune
Aurélien Hermant Aurélien Hermant ... Un jeune
Jérémie Luntz Jérémie Luntz ... Un jeune
Thomas Bensaïd Thomas Bensaïd ... Un jeune
Pénélope Pourriat Pénélope Pourriat ... Une jeune
Ninon Vinsonneau Ninon Vinsonneau ... Une jeune
Bégonia Leis Bégonia Leis ... Une jeune
Eva Simonet Eva Simonet ... L'amie
Judy Campbell ... La mère / Mary-Jane's mother
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Storyline

Mary-Jane, a loving but lonely 40-year-old divorcee with two daughters, Lucy and Loulou asks, "Do all women fall in love with a boy, or just those without sons?" Lucy has a party where Mary-Jane notices Julien, 14, small and brassy, but she sees a sensitive side. She contrives to spend time with him and lets him know she's available to him. He's on the cusp between child and man, alternating between playing a video game, Kung Fu Master, where he tries to rescue Sylvie, and joining friends in bluff talk about sexual exploits. As Lucy realizes what is happening, she's repulsed, but Mary-Jane, encouraged by her own mother, carries on. Is it love or jealousy of lost youth? Is there any way this can end well?

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

He was 15. She was 40. Love is where you find it.

Genres:

Drama | Romance

Certificate:

R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Director Agnès Varda later admitted the title 'Kung-Fu master!" was terribly misleading on a commercial viewpoint. Some foreign distributors even bought the film on the wrong impression it really dealt with the wild adventures of martial arts warrior. See more »

Connections

References Columbo (1971) See more »

Soundtracks

Save Me
Written and Performed by P.I.L.
See more »

User Reviews

 
Delightful, witty, unconventional manifesto on passionate love
18 October 2006 | by debblystSee all my reviews

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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Details

Official Sites:

Ciné-Tamaris [France]

Country:

France

Language:

French | English

Release Date:

November 1989 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Kung-Fu Master! See more »

Filming Locations:

Paris, France See more »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

1.66 : 1
See full technical specs »

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