Hong Kong Phooey: The Complete Series
August 24, 2006
Hong Kong Phooey was a Hanna-Barbera cartoon that originally aired on Saturday mornings from 1974 to 1976. Bruce Lee was very popular at the time and Joseph Barbera was very conscious about popular culture and this is reflected in the character of Hong Kong Phooey, a crime fighting, martial arts practicing pooch. Now, all 16 episodes (31shorts) have been collected on this two-DVD set.
Penrod Pooch, or Penry as he’s usually called, is a mild-mannered canine janitor who fights crime as his alter ego Hong Kong Phooey. Penry mops up at the local police station which gives him the inside scoop on crimes that have been committed thanks to his two primary sources: the dumb and gruff Sarge and the beautiful mini-skirted switchboard operator Rosemary. Their tips allow him to then bring in the culprits as Hong Kong Phooey. A filing cabinet is his equivalent of the Superman phone booth allowing him to change out his janitor outfit and into his red karate crime fighting garb. He often chases down crooks in his Phooeymobile, capable of transforming into such diverse vehicles as a helicopter, a boat or a submarine in seconds! When he gets in a pinch, Hong Kong Phooey consults his Hong Kong Book of Kung Fu and quickly learns some new move to put the zap on the bad guys. When that doesn’t work (and it rarely does) his sidekick Spot the cat steps in to save the day.
The backgrounds aren’t very detailed, almost impressionistic by design (probably due to the punishing schedule of cranking out an episode a week) with dark, tall blobs representing buildings next to greenish hills representing a treeline and yet it works because there is just enough detail so that you know what its supposed to be. The stories are fun and lightweight as Hong Kong Phooey nabs car thieves and finds kangaroos stolen from the zoo. In another episode, he foils a penthouse robbery posing as a rich playboy. His disguise? A black karate outfit instead of his usual red one.
The show featured a catchy theme song performed by Scatman Crothers who also provides the voice for the character. Crothers gives him a lot of character, playing Penry as the unassuming janitor who is always making Sarge look like an idiot and cracking jokes as Hong Kong Phooey while fighting crime. All in all, it’s a pretty amusing cartoon and it’s nice to see it finally get its much deserved due on DVD.
There is an audio commentary on “The Claw/Hong Kong Phooey vs. Hong Kong Phooey” by creative producer Iwao Takamoto, layout unit manager Willie Ito and historian Scott Jeralds. The network wasn’t crazy about Scatman Crothers voicing a dog who knew martial arts until they actually heard his voice. The participants laugh and generally have a good time watching this episode.
The same commentators return for “Comedy Cowboy.” This episode was originally a pilot for a spin-off show – a cowboy anthology that never really took off. To this end, Hong Kong Phooey gets arrested and disappears for most of the episode so that cowboy characters get the spotlight.
“The Phoo-Nomenon” takes a retrospective look at this short-lived cartoon. The creators had to crank out a show a week – a tough grind at the time. Various crew members who worked on the show talk about what it was like creating characters and working together back in the day. This is an affectionate look at the show.
“Hong Kong Phooey – The Batty Bank Gang: The Complete Storyboards.” The creative team pictorialized the written script akin to a comic book. The storyboards were broken down into edited scenes. We get to watch an entire short simultaneously with its corresponding storyboards.