Kung Fury appeared much like its hero: bathed in mystery and accompanied by lots of synthesizer music.
What exactly is it? That’s kind of hard to answer. But the easiest way to wrap your head around this viral short film is by thinking of it as a 1980s-infused mystical martial arts movie that escaped from an insane asylum and is taking over the Internet.
A year ago, a trailer was released as part of a crowdsourced fundraising campaign to create a longer version of the short—and that goal has now been met. The half-hour Kung Fury played the Cannes Film Festival last month, and was just released for free online last week, where it has tallied nearly 12 million hits.
Entertainment Weekly went in search of the man behind this madness: Swedish writer, director and star David Sandberg, who gave us the lowdown on the secrets behind his peculiar love letter to the best of the worst that the 1980s had to offer.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This began as a much shorter teaser trailer, and you’re releasing the half-hour version for free because you raised money on Kickstarter for it. So how much did you need to make this new and improved version of Kung Fury?
David Sandberg: The goal I had on Kickstarter was $200,000. Which at the time seemed kind of optimistic, because no one knew who I was, so I was afraid people wouldn’t trust me or whatever. This was my first project. But then it just exploded, and we raised $200,000 in 24 hours. It was pretty insane. In the end, we raised $630,000 for the 30-minute version.
And did you use it all? Every penny gone?
Yeah, every penny is gone.
For those just discovering it, how do you describe the tone? Um… slightly over the top?
[Laughs] It’s extremely over the top. I had these elements of robots and dinosaurs and mutants and stuff like that and thought, ‘How can I combine this into one film without it being too, like, just wacky?’ The ‘80s decade was such a perfect, crazy decade for this storyline. It somehow works.
Kung Fury begins with a group of punks flipping over a cop car with a skateboard, then shooting it out of the air like a bomb. From there, it has video game consoles that come to life and start killing people in the streets, Nazi villains, ancient gods, a computer hacker who can “hack time,” dinosaurs, tough-talking cops, a dinosaur who is a tough cop. What is your favorite part of this ensemble?
Hmm, good question. I really like Triceracop. He is a fun character. People really love the character, and when we were in Cannes it was the favorite. Like, every time Triceracop was on screen, people were losing their minds. It was so cool to see that.
You played the director’s fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival. That’s a pretty sophisticated place; people tend to boo things they deem unworthy. Was that intimidating?
Well, I was super nervous because, well, first of all I’d never shown a film in front of an audience before. It was, I think, 500 people. So I was afraid: ‘Maybe these people just love really heavy, artsy dramas.’ But I couldn’t hear what was going on onscreen because people were laughing so much.
Your hero—his origin is that he is taking down a ninja master in an alley when he is simultaneously struck by lightning and bitten by a cobra, right?
Then he gains the power of an ancient prophecy called Kung Fury. And he becomes the best Kung Fu master in the world and decides to use his powers to fight crime.
He’s a lone wolf, but ends up partnered with Triceracop, who is very by the book. He’s the most serious character in the film. [Laughter]
Yeah, yeah, totally. My inspiration for it was the buddy cop combination of mismatched partners who don’t want to work with each other. Kung Fury wants to do things alone, ’cause his partner got sliced in half and he doesn’t want to experience that trauma again.
Kung Fury takes on “the worst criminal of all time,” Adolf Hitler. He has a hacker friend who sends him back in time. Tell us about your Adolf Hitler. He’s played by Jorma Taccone from The Lonely Island.
Kung Fury is the best cop in the world, so he needs to fight the ultimate bad guy. And when you think about an evil person, you think about Hitler. When I wrote the script, I wrote down the pun “Kung Fuhrer.”
Tell us a little bit about your background. You mentioned at the start when you launched your Kickstarter that you were concerned nobody knows you. You’ve been a director of commercials and music videos. How did you get started in filmmaking?
I always wanted to make movies, but when I was 17 years old I started experimenting with 3D animation. I was not very good in school, and when I graduated, I was trying to find a job, which I didn’t get.
Which job was that?
I was trying for a telemarketing job. I didn’t get it. That’s the only interview I’ve ever done, actually. I realized I could start freelancing as a 3D animator and visual effects artist. So I started doing that, and then I got a job at an advertising agency. And that worked out for like three years until I realized I had gone too far away from filmmaking.
How did you navigate back to that?
I started freelancing as a director, and I did music videos and commercials. Then I got hired in this huge green-screen studio in Stockholm. I was 26, I think, at the time, and I was like, if I really want to make movies, this is the time. I have to go all in. Otherwise it’s never going to happen.
The green screen job didn’t last?
I quit, and I moved in with my mom and started working on Kung Fury. People thought I was an idiot because, you know, it was a good job. And it was fun, but I really wanted to do this, so I worked on it for about two years before the Kickstarter.
Just making the trailer?
Yeah, but the initial idea was to make the whole thing by myself do all the visual effects and everything. But after two years, I was like, this is way too ambitious for one person. So my idea was to get help from people, not only raising funding but to get the word out about the project, and get people excited, and get to know some new people I could collaborate with in the future.
Tell me about your lead actor, the guy who plays Kung Fury. I hear he was really difficult and you had a very hard time working with him. Huge ego, right?
[Laughs.] Yeah, he’s an a—hole. We don’t speak anymore.
Of course, you play Kung Fury. But tell me about the voice you’re doing as the character.
It’s my voice, but what it is [is] I eat a lot of chocolate and somehow that makes the voice more gravely. Then I’m like [in character], “I’m a cop from the future…”
A little bit of a Clint Eastwood thing. Maybe Jean-Claude Van Damme?
Yeah, Clint Eastwood, Jean-Claude, Batman.
Even with the Kickstarter cash, you were still working on a fairly low budget. What kind of tricks did you have at your disposal? How do you create a Nazi army on the cheap?
There is only one actor who is the soldier. The whole Nazi army sequence is basically just one guy.
So it’s just cut and paste him doing different things a thousand times?
It took about five months to complete just that shot. It was like, first we shot Kung Fury in five different takes of him just punching the air, essentially. And then we had one guy who ran into frame like 63 times falling in different ways. And then we combined it to something that looks like it’s one continuous shot.
What is the plan now? You’re working with producers Seth Graham-Smith (Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter) and David Katzenberg (director of ABC’s 1980s-themed The Goldbergs), and they’re trying to make a feature film version of Kung Fury. What brought you together?
Well, we’ve been developing with them for about a year a feature script, and we have a first draft. It needs some fine-tuning obviously, but I feel it’s a very good collaboration. When we met them the first time, we didn’t know what to expect. Their office was plastered with Back to the Future posters, and all this stuff that was just awesome. We started throwing ideas around, and it felt really good from the get-go. We’ve been developing this simultaneously as I’ve been finishing up the short. So now I’m excited to see where this is gonna take us.
Do you have a timeline, or are you just waiting to see who joins on as a partner?
Not really a timeline, but I wanna get going as soon as possible. I mean, this has been so much fun for everyone involved. My entire crew is kinda depressed now that it’s over because we had so much fun doing this. You just want to make more.
Is the feature film going to incorporate this half-hour tale, or will there be a separate story?
The feature is going to be a clean slate. Very different, but it’s the same universe.