Track Anatomy: Analyzing the Lyrics of Carl Douglas' "Kung Fu Fighting"
We all know the song, right? We grew up with it, we made fun of it, and we've tried to forget it. But has anyone actually looked at what this curse of a tune is really saying? It's a wild ride.
Oh-hoh-hoh-hoh, ha Oh-hoh-hoh-hoh, ha Oh-hoh-hoh-hoh-ha
A hook to start us off. Makes it sound like a serious smack down is about to happen.
Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting
Okay, thank you for setting the scene. So we don't know where we are, but we know one thing- everybody (EVERYBODY) was Kung Fu Fighting. Who's everyone? Well, we're never really told. So it's best to just assume that this song takes place in a dystopian society where everyone is forced against their will to fight with kung fu perpetually for their entire life. Perhaps the narrator of this song is an outsider experiencing this kung fu hell for the first time? Who's to say?
Those kicks were as fast as lightning
A little more detail. The citizens of this kung fu fighting land have some crazy fast kicks. One would assume this would be the case if these people have been kung fu fighting for their entire lives, but thank you, narrator, for the clarification.
In fact, it was a little bit frightening
Well, obviously. What wouldn't be frightening about coming face to face with a society where everybody was kung fu fighting. That's terrifying. There are (Google fact check) 328.2 million people in the United States (2019) and 7.594 billion people globally (2018). There's no telling where the perimeter of this kung fu place is, but if the narrator is witnessing millions or maybe billions of people kung fu fighting with lightning fast kicks, then it would definitely be cause for fright.
But they fought with expert timing
Oh great- so although seeing this major battle is a little scary, at least the soldiers had expert timing. Because kung fu fighters without expert timing would be even more frightening. But this does bring up the question: what is their timing in reference to? Is there a soundtrack that plays behind this eternal battle? I'm imagining “I'll Make a Man Out of You” from the Mulan (1998) soundtrack. Or to fit the theme of this kung fu life of punishment, is it a meta reference where the song “Kung Fu Fighting” is actually playing during this battle as well. Now that's a little bit frightening.
There were funky China men from funky Chinatown
What the funk?! This just seems messed up. Sure, I guess “funky” can be a term of endearment from a certain point of view, but paired with “China men” just seems... Moving on.
They were chopping them up They were chopping them down
If I didn't know any better, this is actually just taken from the “Lumberjack Song” from Monty Python.
It's an ancient Chinese art
Just making sure you know some background information about kung fu now that you've already devoted a decent amount of time into this song about kung fu. But not too much information, because the mystery is what makes it good.
And everybody knew their part
Again, I think this implies a dystopian society where everyone is forced to fight against their will. Everyone is given a part to play in life. It is not their choice, but if they do not play their part they will be terminated from society.
From a feint into a slip And a kickin' from the hip
Yes, more fighting references. Just trying to help you imagine what this world of war looks like... In rhyme.
There was funky Billie Chin and little Sammy Chong
What the funk (part 2)?! Again, can these actually be the names of two awesome people? Sure. But within the context of this song it just feels... Moving on.
He said, here comes the big boss, let's get it on
Ah, now we're getting somewhere. So in this dystopian society of endless fighting, there seems to be a hierarchy that has formed. Perhaps if the fighters can make their way to the final boss, then they reach a peaceful Nirvana where one no longer has to fight anymore? That is, until they are challenged by the underlings, thrusting them back into the fight for their lives.
We took a bow and made a stand Started swaying with the hand
A sign of honor before the battle. So if everybody is kung fu fighting, do you all bow to each other at the beginning, or do you have to bow before each battle that you begin? In which case there might be a bit of downtime as you wait for your next opponent to finish up their previous fight. While we're on the subject of downtime- when do these people eat? Sleep? Use the bathroom? Are they all wearing catheters so they can fight and pee at the same time?
A sudden motion made me skip
Dude, you already said the kicks were fast. Of course there was a sudden motion that made you skip. If it wasn't sudden, it wouldn't be that fast.
Now we're into a brand new trip
Are we going to a New World where people aren't forced to fight against their will?
Oh-hoh-hoh-hoh, ha Oh-hoh-hoh-hoh, ha Oh-hoh-hoh-hoh-ha Keep on, keep on, keep on Sure enough
We're back to the hook, but with the addition of the “keep on/sure enough”. Again, implying that this fight is a requirement by law, and that they must continue fighting in order to survive.
Everybody was Kung Fu fighting Those kids were fast as lightning In fact it was a little bit frightening Make sure you have expert timing
Kung Fu fighting, had to be fast as lightning...
Look at that slight lyric change at the end. This means that we, as the listener, have moved from being observers to entering the battle. Perhaps the narrator was our initiator into this new society, and he is explaining how it works. And now, after all of that, he is giving us one more piece of advice to survive in this new eternal kung fu nightmare.
(Cover Photo: Michael Putland/Getty Images)