Kung Fu Hustle (2004) / Action-Comedy
aka Gong Fu
MPAA Rated: R for violence and language
Running Time: 95 min.
Cast: Stephen Chow, Kwok Kuen Chan, Hsiao Liang, Yuen Qiu, Wah Yuen, Leung Siu Lung, Chi Chung Lam, Chiu Chi Ling, Feng Xiao Gang, Xing Yu
Director: Stephen Chow
Screenplay: Stephen Chow, Tsang Kan Cheong, Xin Huo, Chan Man Keung
Review published March 15, 2005
With Kung Fu Hustle, comedian Stephen Chow (Shaolin Soccer, The Tricky Master) continues his trend in high-energy, lowbrow, over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek action, in what may be the most visually breathtaking film he's ever done. In fact, the special effects fly so fast, so furious, that it will probably blow all lovers of eye-candy away just from that aspect alone. Of course, there is a story to go along with all of it, albeit a standard revenge thriller (it is a kung fu movie, after all), but it's almost unfair to criticize this for pedestrian plotting, since it is making fun of the kung fu movies that are the inspiration this pull-out-all-stops satire.
Chow spoofs two genres at once, the Hollywood gangster movie and the Hong Kong kung fu flick, both with equal fervor. Set in 1940s China, Chow plays Sing, an aspiring hoodlum with bigger dreams than talent, trying hard to make his name known in a bid for acceptance in the Axe Gang, the most vicious and notorious band of thieves around. The Axe gang control nearly everything, except for the poorest districts, which includes Pig Sty Alley. Sing unwittingly sets off a chain of events that finally causes the Axe Gang to take notice of the denizens of Pig Sty Alley, who are all kung fu masters, erupting in all-out war between the two factions.
The first thing that stands out in Kung Fu Hustle is the aforementioned visuals, so it makes sense to give props to the crew that made this visual smorgasbord. First, fans of The Matrix will recognize the trademark fight choreography of none other than the great Yuen Woo-Ping (Kill Bill, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon), who delivers every bit of the breathtaking action you've come to know, love and expect from the all-time master of stylized kung fu. The second major component, and one which makes Kung Fu Hustle actually transcend its juvenile nature and become a comic work of art, is the gorgeous cinematography by Poon Hang-sang (Formula 51, Who Am I?), who has matured into one of the best in the business. Last, but definitely not least, is the incredible work done by the special effects team, supervised by Frankie Chung, which may be the best in a non-Hollywood vehicle I've ever seen.
Kung Fu Hustle is also a comedy, although much of the humor does come from Chow piling layer upon layer of increasingly ridiculous special effects, which gets to the point where you can only laugh at just how far Chow is able to rubber band this material and not completely break the movie. Chow does a good job of setting up this quality early, starting off modestly, taking everything just a notch higher with each successive scene, until we come to the cataclysmic conclusion By this time, we are already in the mind frame that "anything goes", and boy, does it ever.
While this isn't really Chow's funniest movie, or his most well-written, it is the one where he employs the most imagination, knowing that the sky's the limit as far as what he can do with the special effects -- an opportunity which he exploits to the fullest extent. Slapstick, sight gags, spoofs, and its own unique blend of kitsch are what you should expect from this ceaselessly energetic excursion into inanity. Kung Fu Hustle is all over the place, so to say one's mileage will vary is a given. However, even if you aren't one to be blown away by special effects, you may just be blown away by how relentlessly imaginative Chow's vision is, in this potpourri of action, comedy and thrills galore.
©2005 Vince Leo