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also known as Le petit amour

Kung-fu Master!1988

  • 3.8
  • passes the bechdel test
A lovely, bittersweet companion to JANE B. PAR AGNÈS V. from director Agnes Varda and star/muse Jane Birkin, this film has nothing to do with martial arts (the film's title comes from an arcade video game played obsessively in the film by a teenaged boy, Julien). Birkin delivers one of her finest performances as a lonely forty-year-old woman who finds herself shattering taboos by falling in love with the fourteen-year-old Julien, but is it romance, or a desperate attempt to turn back time in the face of middle age? KUNG-FU MASTER is truly a family affair: Varda's son with the late director Jacques Demy, Mathieu Demy, plays Julien (and Birkin appears here with her two real-life daughters: Charlotte Gainsbourg and Lou Doillon, her child with well-known filmmaker Jacques Doillon). Briefly released in the late 1980s in the U.S. and long unavailable here, KUNG-FU MASTER has been beautifully restored from the original 35mm camera negative. "It's a film in which all the younger actors are the children of the director and lead actress" says Varda. "It was like a picnic, you know?"

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"Varda’s true subject seems to be the way in which 'pure' love, classical romanticism, can exist as an idea in a vacuum, but can survive in the real world only for a moment before practical considerations mercilessly wipe it out." - Roger Ebert


6 members like this review

This is a short and simple film that manages to be almost epic in the way it captures the time in which it was filmed and a story that is only "simple" when casually summarized.

Varda and Jane Birkin had already embarked on a cinematic discussion around Feminist ideas when the idea for this film was born. Two of Birkin's children (now the successful adult actors Charlotte Gainsbourg and Lou Dillion) and Varda's son (now the successful actor/director Mathieu Demy) act opposite Birkin.

It is almost unfair to write that this is the story of a mother approaching 40 who has an affair with a 14 year old friend of her 14 year old daughter. To summarize the movie in this way is unfair to the film and to potential viewers. This is a surprisingly honest film about desire and love told from two very different perspectives sharing one very particular moment in time.

Varda carefully crafts the film so that there is a constant ebb / flow between fragile human beauty and disturbing human error. The clever use of a mid 1980's video arcade game is the perfect sort of character to tie both perspectives of the story together.

Beautifully shot and well acted, "Kung-fu Master!" also manages to capture the horror which those of us who were between the ages of 13 - 17 felt in 1987. Developing sexually and socially is awkward enough, but the looming threat of AIDS created a whole new level of panic. This was a scary time to slip into the normality of sexual experimentation. It is this shadow of danger that also acts as a metaphor for the soon to be middle-aged mother who dares to succumb to her desire to return to those feelings of youth that only seem sweet compared to her mid-point adult loneliness.

A profoundly brilliant bit of cinematic work.

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top reviewer

Member Reviews (5)

243496.small
top reviewer

This is a short and simple film that manages to be almost epic in the way it captures the time in which it was filmed and a story that is only "simple" when casually summarized.

Varda and Jane Birkin had already embarked on a cinematic discussion around Feminist ideas when the idea for this film was born. Two of Birkin's children (now the successful adult actors Charlotte Gainsbourg and Lou Dillion) and Varda's son (now the successful actor/director Mathieu Demy) act opposite Birkin.

It is almost unfair to write that this is the story of a mother approaching 40 who has an affair with a 14 year old friend of her 14 year old daughter. To summarize the movie in this way is unfair to the film and to potential viewers. This is a surprisingly honest film about desire and love told from two very different perspectives sharing one very particular moment in time.

Varda carefully crafts the film so that there is a constant ebb / flow between fragile human beauty and disturbing human error. The clever use of a mid 1980's video arcade game is the perfect sort of character to tie both perspectives of the story together.

Beautifully shot and well acted, "Kung-fu Master!" also manages to capture the horror which those of us who were between the ages of 13 - 17 felt in 1987. Developing sexually and socially is awkward enough, but the looming threat of AIDS created a whole new level of panic. This was a scary time to slip into the normality of sexual experimentation. It is this shadow of danger that also acts as a metaphor for the soon to be middle-aged mother who dares to succumb to her desire to return to those feelings of youth that only seem sweet compared to her mid-point adult loneliness.

A profoundly brilliant bit of cinematic work.

6 members like this review

Thank you. You've increased my appreciation.

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top reviewer

This is actually the last of Varda's features I hadn't seen. And why? Because it is a difficult film to find. I remember going to a link on one site and I simply couldn't make a successful payment to watch it, and could not find a download elsewhere. The subject matter, that of a 40 year old woman (Jane Birkin) falling in love with a 14 year old boy (Mathieu Demy), is admittedly somewhat uncomfortable at times. Varda as usual is pushing some barriers here. But if you find yourself somehow morally opposed to Kung-fu Master while you think Lolita and versions of Lolita everywhere are perfectly okay, then I can tell you one thing - You are a misogynist. And while we are often struck by the absurdity of the relationship which develops between Birkin and Demy, Birkin's character is a far better person than Nabokov's protagonist Humbert Humbert, who openly admits to being a habitual sex predator. Birkin's character on the other hand is a rather lonely woman who feels unappreciated, and ultimately we feel sympathy as we watch her ostracized and humiliated for her transgression. Like many Varda works, a daring and feminist one which breaks new ground. Of course many teenage boys have developed crushes on older women but it is almost never a subject in film or literature outside of pornography.

1 member likes this review
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top reviewer

Right, and of course everyone recalls the firestorm following

the release of "Summer of '42" whereas "Lolita", both the

novel and movies, occasioned nary a murmur.

I'd suggest you review the large percentage of

pooh-poohing comments which accompany any news

of a female teacher's affair with a male student

(“lucky kid” , “where was she when I was fifteen?” and the like)

versus the near unanimous opprobrium expressed in

cases where the sexes are reversed.

See Matty S. review, much better than I could do.

1 member likes this review

A very nice and easy going film. Beautiful visuals and scenery.

great film, interesting view of love and feelings. beautiful scenes and photography.