Sunday, February 21, 2021

Slamdance ’21: Black Kung Fu Chick (Episode)

Mastering martial arts involves more than simply learning the moves. The discipline it entails is even more important, especially on a mental level. Tasha will learn that from her new sifu, but going to high school in LA means she can still use plenty of hand-to-hand fighting technique in the mini-episodes of creator-director Rae Shaw’s Black Kung Fu Chick, which screens as part of the 2021 (online) Slamdance Film Festival.

Tasha is a serious student, who also happens to be into comic book culture. Unfortunately, that means she often gets bullied on the streets of her Watts neighborhood. It has gotten so bad, she has even started cutting class, despite her college aspirations. Recognizing her predicament, Tasha’s math teacher, Mr. Jian, offers to serve as her Mr. Miyagi. However, his approach initially confuses Tasha—as do the crane videos he has her watch.

haw deserves a lot of credit for portraying the kind of martial arts discipline that you usually don’t see in kung fu movies. Real masters always prefer to avoid a fight. Likewise, Tasha will extract herself from the big centerpiece fight scene as soon as possible, because she has more important things to do. That is a good message for kids, but the fight scenes (overseen by stunt coordinator Alfred Hsing) are still pretty cool.

The vibe of
BKFC is also quite appealing in a nostalgic kind of way, because of Raven Stevenson’s Super8 cinematography, which approximates the retro-look of 1970s “Afterschool Specials.” There is a nice geek element as well, thanks to the use of still comic panels during scene transitions. Ironically, it is easier to imagine it getting picked up by a network during the 1990s than finding a match with today’s compulsively cutting-edge streaming services, but Shaw’s’ characters deserve to find a longer life somewhere.

As Tasha, Taylor Polidore is indeed engaging and charismatic, yet she always comes across like a realistic teen, who struggles with real-life teen kind of stuff. Likewise, Peter Boon Koh plays Mr. Jian as a calm and wise sifu, without resorting to stereotypical cliches.

Shaw’s four mini-episodes have a lot of heart and they look terrific. They certainly count as “family entertainment,” but they are also legit enough to impress real deal martial arts fans. Recommended for everyone who grew up with the original
Karate Kid as well as their kids, Black Kung Fu Chick screens through Thursday (2/25), as an episodic selection of this year’s Slamdance.