Rishi Ram and his sister Rithu Ram, both of whom are martial arts instructors settled in Rishikesh. They live a peaceful life that turns chaotic when they cross paths with a notorious martial arts gang, leading to a spree of furious violence in The Kung Fu Master: A Tale of Vengeance.
“The Kung Fu Master: A Tale of Vengeance” is a 2020 Indian Malayalam-language martial arts film written and directed by Abrid Shine. The martial arts sequences in the film were influenced by the action films of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Jet Li.
The Kung Fu Master: A Tale of Vengeance was produced by Shibu Thekkumpuram under the banner of Fullon Studio Frames. The film stars Neeta Pillai, Sanoop Dinesh, and Jiji Scaria in major roles. Arjun Ravi made his debut as a cinematographer with this film.
The movie was filmed in the Himalayan Valley, Badrinath, and India-China border. The music and background score of the film were composed by Ishaan Chhabra and the lyrics for the songs were written by Sreerekha Bhaskaran.
The film forms part of Malayalam cinema, also known as Mollywood, which is the Indian film industry of Malayalam-language motion pictures. It is based in Kerala, India. The films produced in Malayalam cinema are known for their cinematography and story-driven realistic plots.
The Kung Fu Master: A Tale of Vengeance is a story about the siblings Rithu Ram, played by Neeta Pillai, and Rishi Ram, played by Jiji Scaria. He has a wife and a kid, and they are expecting a baby. His father also lives with him. Rithu is a single college lecturer living on her own.
They both live peacefully in Uttarakhand, a state in the northern part of India, and are trained in Kung Fu. Rishi agrees to become a police informant against Louis Antony, played by Sanoop Dinesh, who is leading a gang of men trained in martial arts, committing crimes, and is also heavily under the influence of drugs. The film starts establishing this very quickly. In the opening credits, we get an expose of the skills of the siblings, both Kung Fu Masters.
Their lives turn upside down, when Louis Antony, barges into their home one night and massacres everyone around. Rishi is the only survivor of the attack. Left for dead, he struggles to remain alive in intensive care. Once awake he remembers what happens and mourns along with his sister. She takes care of him once he is released from the hospital. He works his way back to life, helped by his sister. This takes a toll on her social and dating life. She takes on all the responsibility to take care of her brother.
With none left except each other to reach out to, they live on as Rishi physically recovers, with the sole intent of seeking vengeance on the ones that had ruined their lives beyond repair.
The Kung Fu Master is a movie that shows us how the siblings were able to stand on their feet and fight against Louis Antony and his gang. The movie can be watched in the Malayalam language with English subtitles on Amazon Prime. The film was dubbed in Hindi as well for YouTube with English subtitles. I couldn’t find an official date on when the dubbed version was released.
I have very fond memories of watching Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Jet Li movies and I was very curious about this film.
What was surprisingly good about the film is how they manage to maintain long shots for the fighting scenes. You can see Neeta Pillai getting hit and then hitting back in a single shot without a cut which is totally awesome.
The fights are self-contained meaning they are no exaggerated moves and sounds. Where needed you can suspend your disbelief and become a believer because the action was so great. Both leading actors have the ability to convey a lot with their facial expressions and mannerisms without saying a word.
Fighting is like therapy for the siblings, an outlet for their accumulated rage. With precision, the blows land hard, and they don’t really care about the outcome as long as the enemy is down.
Louis Antony’s dialogues remind me of typical 90s villains. Their dialogue was not great, but their costumes and physical mannerism were good. Louis’ mannerisms are very well portrayed. You believe very quickly that he is crazy, The Joker level of crazy. It is also very satisfying to see how concerned and scared the gangsters get once they realize that the siblings are after them. I also loved how the siblings fought together as one unit.
Music is important in the film as it is with all Indian films and films in general, I would say. However, there are no traditional dancing numbers like you see in other Indian films such as Aravindha Sametha Veera Raghava, Simba, Temper, Ayogya, and Master for example.
The cinematography is beautiful. There are many incredible shots in the second half when the siblings go in search of the gangsters.
From what has been experienced in Hollywood in recent years I don’t pay much attention to what the critics in the mainstream say about a film. Why? Big-budget Films are usually overhyped, and all remaining films get barely any attention if not for the movie watcher that goes to places like film threat and other similar channels that cover regular and indie films.
THE CHALLENGE: DECIDING TO WATCH THE FILM
For foreign cinema, I think it is a little bit difficult to not look at what critics of the particular country of origin have to say but I found that Indian cinema has a similar problem to Hollywood. Bollywood has been overhyped and the remaining film industries that are part of the Indian cinema got barely any attention on the international stage before the OTT revolution. I call it a revolution because suddenly there were so many foreign films and series available that you never heard of.
My introduction to Indian cinema was through friends who showed me Bollywood movies. Over the years they also showed me independent Hindi films that don’t follow the Bollywood formula but are still part of Indian cinema. They never showed me anything else and it remained like that until recently when I discovered a few other Indian film industries through Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Zee5.
I went back to them and asked them why they never told me about the other industries:
- It seems these industries are culturally different, and the language is different which for me is a moot point. People are more open to watching foreign films not minding the subtitles and learning about cultures. So, it would be very helpful to have English subtitles in the trailers to reach the global audience. Maybe consider Spanish and Portuguese subtitles as well? As I mentioned before in previous publications I think Indian cinema would do well in the Caribbean and Latin America.
- Another reason was that not all these non-Hindi films were available on physical media. I got a few DVD/Blue Ray Bollywood movies on amazon and indeed if I went to look now for those other industries, I’m not finding any official physical media which is unfortunate. Having everything on streaming platforms is convenient but it’s not that fun when your internet connection is weak, and many countries have that problem.
THE CRITICS OPINION
The reviews from Indian critics of Hollywood, Bollywood, and the remaining Indian film industries are completely different. Hollywood most of the time gets praised and slightly criticized sometimes with the same wording used by American critics.
Bollywood in some instances gets overpraised or sometimes there is the hint that even though it is a bad movie go watch it because it stars so and so. I find it unfair that the same standard is not applied to the remaining film industries that sometimes get harsh criticism when they have better content-driven films.
What some critics say about The Kung Fu Master: A Tale of Vengeance is that it lacks drama in dialogues and not-so-great performances which could be because of a lack of talent or inexperience but it is not always the actor’s fault. Sometimes it’s the directors that either lack talent or are yet too inexperienced to know how to get a good performance. Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is a case study of all the scenarios mentioned.
I do not understand why people wanted more drama when it’s an action movie, I would like more action. You won’t see them say the same about Hollywood action films like Commando and Rambo. When I go see an action film, I want to see action, not a telenovela.
There is also another point I’ve seen mentioned how the siblings have no chemistry, which I can understand if I compare it with a film like Hansel and Gretel. But again, in this industry, they are expecting realistic portrayals and in real life, not all siblings have chemistry especially when they are introverted or dealing with their own issues like Rithu and Rishi do. At one point, you see Rithu watching him train excessively and wanting to say something but knowing how to reach her brother. I loved how both of them go against the villain together.
What I found very helpful are the reviews of the general audience and the non-mainstream reviewers, those are more honest and helpful but because of the language barrier, there is a very limited quantity that provides their reviews in English or adds English subtitles to their videos.
GIVING IT A CHANCE
It’s ok if you see it as an independent film with a limited budget with probably a few first-time actors. It’s not fair to compare it to big-budget films. I see again and again the difference in the review of Hollywood films and Indian Films.
In this particular case, it may be justified because there are certain traits the locals would expect from their film industry but from an international viewer’s perspective, the watching experience of certain films has been very positive despite the review of mainstream critics. Everything is criticized either blandly with zero enthusiasm or dramatically overhyped. Especially certain “not so great” films being overhyped as the best thing ever. That is not fair either.
I wish there was a “best practice” standard on how to evaluate films making the distinction between first-time filmmakers, the around-the-block filmmakers, and the most experienced filmmakers because to me it seems that everyone is treated the same when they are not at the same level of competency. In a business scenario, would you evaluate the project of a junior, with limited funding, the same way as you would evaluate the project of a senior manager with extensive funding?
The Kung Fu Master: A Tale of Vengeance is a self-contained authentic action movie about family and revenge. A martial arts film with zero “over the top” drama. The revenge is planned, prepared, and executed without drama. The first half of the film is a little slow and is the weakest point of the film but the action in the second half makes up for it. In addition to the action, another strength of the film is the cinematography which is absolutely stunning.
Both Neeta Pillai and Jiji Scaria who played the leading roles made us believe that they could take down all those other martial arts-trained gangsters. Other actresses that pretend to be action heroes/superheroes should take Neeta as an example to follow. She learned Kung Fu to do the fighting scenes as realistic as possible and it looks amazing. Her personality is very similar to mine it was very easy to identify with her.
According to the director, the Kung Fu style used for the film is Wing Chun, a Chinese Kung Fu martial art style that values speed. “Wing Chun was conceptualized by a woman called Ng Mui and it was practiced by legends such as Bruce Lee. Neeta was enthused about training in Wing Chun. She started off by practicing Wushu, a rhythmic martial art form”. Other martial art forms such as Karate, Kalarippayattu, and Taekwondo were also incorporated into the film.
The value of family and the devastating impact that people go through when they lose a family member is rarely explored anymore in western cinema. A realistic portrayal of a woman who knows how to fight is scarce. These days it’s all left for CGI and stunt doubles. While it’s demanded from male actors to be physically in shape in order to film fight scenes, especially in superhero/action movies, the same standard is not applied to actresses making the portrayal and performance unrealistic.
I’ll try to convince more friends to watch it and treat myself by watching it again. The nostalgia for the Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and Donnie Yen movies was there. Made me want to watch those again as well. It is what it says it is: a pure martial arts film.
My Rating: 7/10
While the quest for alternative entertainment continues here are some previous titles on Indian cinema that would be interesting to check out:
- THE 3 CASES: TEMPER – SIMMBA – AYOGYA
- MASTER: A HUMAN – A PROFESSOR – A DEFENDER
- ARAVINDHA SAMETHA VEERA RAGHAVA
- MAJILI | A JOURNEY OF LOVE
- DEAR COMRADE: THANK YOU!
All images in this publication belong to the original creators and are used as references under fair use.