Kung Fu Hustle
directed by Stephen Chow
Starring Stephen Chow, Chan Kwok Kwok Kwan, Yuen Wah, Yuen Qiu, Huang Sheng Yi
Sony Pictures Classics
Western audiences were first introduced to writer/director Stephen Chow in 2001, via his highly entertaining film Shaolin Soccer. Chow’s combination of humor, action and adventure instantly endeared him to American audiences causing the film became an instant martial arts cult classic.
His latest film, Kung Fu Hustle (which holds the distinction of being Hong Kong’s highest grossing film of 2004), is a charming film that, like its predecessor, combines martial arts with heavy doses of slapstick comedy. Set in 1940s Shanghai, Kung Fu Hustle chronicles the misadventures of a down and out hoodlum named Sing (Chow) as he changes from a gangster wannabee to the greatest kung fu master of all time.
The film opens with a bumbling Sing trying to join the prestigious Axe Gang, the most ruthless gang in China. Nothing goes right for Sing as he attempts to intimidate the quiet citizens of Pig Sty Alley, a squalid small Cantonese town that barely makes a mark on the map. Instead of instilling fear in the town’s timid residents, he bumbles and fumbles the job, inadvertently dooming the town’s residents while bringing shame and disgrace to the Axe Gang in the process. What happens next combines elements of Enter the Dragon, The Good, The Bad & The Ugly and West Side Story.
When the Axe Gang returns to Pig Sty Alley to gain revenge they see what appears to be a derelict town full of hapless residents and ruled by a ruthless landlady. But instead of easily bullying the simple townsfolk, the Axe Gang encounters fierce warriors who dispatch of them easily, causing further disgrace to the Axe Gang.
Meanwhile, Sing begins to come to grips with his destiny. He discovers that being a gangster isn’t all that’s cracked up to be when a vengeful Axe Gang recruits him to spring the greatest kung fu master of all time, The Beast, from jail. When The Beast is unleashed he brutally suppresses the heroes of Pig Sty Alley, forcing Sing to make a dangerous decision that will bring balance and restore order to the kung-fu universe.
Kung Fu Hustle is more than a fun romp at the movies. It’s an appealing film with several things going for it. The film flows well and is evenly paced. The plot is simple enough that even the most ardent haters of subtitles won’t mind the language barrier. The action is almost nonstop and features some of the most intricate hand-to-hand martial arts combat ever filmed. Chow skillfully mixes these fight scenes with terrific special effects that enhance the action without blunting the skill of the martial artists onscreen. As if that were not enough, Kung Fu Hustle throws a tender love story and plenty of comedy antics into the mix.
As we move further into the summer box office season there undoubtedly will be bigger, badder and flashier films at your local megaplex than Kung Fu Hustle. However, none of these films will go the distance to deliver as much fun, laughter and nonstop action. Kung Fu Hustle is one of those rare cinematic treats that defies language and culture while at the same time breaking down conventional boundaries. But more importantly, Kung Fu Hustle is the funnest movie of the year.
Kung Fu Hustle: www.kungfuhustle.com