2:05am PT by Alex Ritman
'Kung Fury': How 'It' Producers Plan to Turbo Charge the Cult Action-Comedy Short
It’s been almost three years since the feature-length follow-up to cult short Kung Fury was first announced by The Hollywood Reporter.
At the time, the news didn’t make much of a ripple. The world — including some 30 million viewers on YouTube — was yet to see all 31 gloriously cheesy minutes of Swedish filmmaker David Sandberg’s excessively over-the-top action-comedy. That would come just a week later, when the film had its world premiere in — of all places — the Directors’ Fortnight sidebar of Cannes 2015.
But the fact that KatzSmith Productions had started working with “unquestionably the greatest director of the '80s” was proof that what had started as a hilarious Kickstarter campaign to raise $200,000 for a bedroom VFX project was morphing into something far bigger.
That something is now taking shape, and appears to be far bigger than anyone would have predicted back in 2015.
During the Berlinale earlier this month, Michael Fassbender and Arnold Schwarzenegger were revealed as having joined the cast of the Kung Fury feature film alongside David Hasselhoff (who had a cameo in the original and sang the theme tune "True Survivor"). Bloom also officially launched international sales (Endeavor Content and CAA rep for North America), while it was announced that Fassbender would produce, alongside KatzSmith, Philip Westgren, Conor McCaughan and, for Sandberg's Laser Unicorns banner, Sandberg and Pelle Strandberg.
With the castings came a synopsis. The film — due to start shooting in September — would see Kung Fury, “the greatest damn cop of all time,” travel through space and time from 1985 Miami to save his elite police force the Thundercops, defend the prestigious Miami Kung Fu Academy and stop Adolf Hitler, the Kung Fuhrer (last seen laughing maniacally atop a robotic eagle in the final scene of the original), from getting his hands on the “ultimate weapon."
Reported fears about the film’s reception after three years of quiet were unwarranted. The casting news began trending almost instantly (the Fassbender story went straight to the top of Reddit), and the project was one of the buzziest titles on offer at Berlin's European Film Market (one impressed buyer said the Kung Fury script read like it was “written by a 10-year-old boy, but a 10-year-old with a great sense of story structure”). And, with several roles yet to be filled, other big names began making inquiries.
“We’ve gotten lots of incoming calls and emails — which is a strange experience — and from a lot of known actors who want to be a part of this,” says Seth Grahame-Smith, co-founder of KatzSmith with David Katzenberg and speaking to THR in Berlin. “But what’s important is making people be a part of this — those who truly get what it is and why they should be in it, as opposed to: here’s a paycheck.”
In the time since they came on board, KatzSmith has grown from an exciting new banner with some bold ambitions (the long-awaited Beetlejuice sequel, being one), to the production company behind last year’s $700 million box-office smash It, now the most successful horror film in history.
While it’s clear the KatzSmith team are adept at taking an already much-loved cultural moment and putting some significant turbo power in its engines, they’re aware of the specific challenges that lie ahead with Kung Fury.
“It cannot just be a rehash of the moments you know,” says Katzenberg, who admits the film should attract those who have never seen the short while appeasing the tens of millions who have watched it online.
“It has to be new and it has to be fresh and it has to raise the bar on those expectations. And I know it’s something that David thinks about constantly — he’s always the first to remind us that we have a duty to the 18,000 people who shelled out money on Kickstarter to deliver the goods.”
It was actually due to the popularity of the original (which aired on Robert Rodriguez’s El Rey Network and later on Netflix) that a feature-length script penned in time for Cannes 2015 had to be shelved.
“None of us had a clue what sort of viral impact this short was going to make, so in the aftermath we basically had to put it away because it was just an extended version,” says Westgren. “We felt this had to play as a proper sequel.”
Not surprising, given the online following, studios have reportedly been kicking Kung Fury’s tires for some time. But the determination has been to keep the project in the independent arena and away from those who might wish to interfere with the original’s purposefully schlocky DNA (THR understands one studio stipulation be that someone else, other than Sandberg, play Kung Fury himself, an instant no-no).
“Why we’ve really resisted taking this off the table is that we’re not sure this movie is one that would survive the studio process,” says Grahame-Smith. “How do you give this script a note? ‘Well, this doesn’t make sense. This tone is a little bit wonky. Well yeah, it’s supposed to be, thank you!”
Even without the deep pockets of a studio, the budget for Kung Fury is going to be “significantly bigger” than the $600,000 that went into the short. And the action won’t be shot entirely with a green screen, which was a necessity for the original. (Although, in keeping with its retro aesthetic, more than half of the film will still use this technology).
“It will be very, very ambitious and will feel much bigger in terms of vision and scope than the short,” says Aaron Schmidt, who joined KatzSmith as senior vp last year. “It reads like a $300 million movie.”
As for the music, Hasselhoff, alongside his role in the film, is once again rumored to be involved, as is Swedish synth-wave artist Mitch Murder, who wrote much of the original’s soundtrack (including "True Survivor"). But, like the casting process, the producers claim they’ve been approached by big names from the pop world wanting to be a part of it all.
“The soundtrack is something that we’re very interested in building out,” says Schmidt. “I get excited thinking who will be on that. I get excited thinking about what sort of game component there will be for this movie; whether it be mobile or platform or a steam-type game.”
Kung Fury is clearly the sort of exciting IP that lends itself to numerous platforms (an arcade-style Streetfighter-type game entitled Kung Fury: Street Rage was already launched in May 2015). But at its heart sits the film, and the main goal for KatzSmith and Sandberg will be to expand the universe of the short — one that inspired countless fan art submissions, plus a successful clothing line, toys and more — without losing any of the intentionally ridiculous elements that made it so widely adored.
While the addition of a twice Oscar-nominated actor and one of the biggest action stars of all time was a clear indication of the filmmakers’ ambitions, any sign that they’ve given Kung Fury a Hollywood makeover will likely see the original fan base turn away. And it’s something the KatzSmith team — who reference the “passion” involved numerous times — is well aware of.
“We all came to this as fans of the Kickstarter trailer, and then meeting David and hearing his plans and being blown away by the short,” says Grahame-Smith.
“It’s endlessly fun to work with him and to watch him continue to build and create this world that came out of his head. We like to say that if the short reminded you of popping a tape in the VCR, the feature will remind you of going to the cinema in the '80s.”
See the original short below.