It’s refreshing to see there’s a director out there who doesn’t take himself so seriously.
Stephen Chow’s work (which includes Shaolin Soccer) is anything but pretentious.
He’s just in it for the pure joy of making movies. And it’s evident, in Kung Fu Hustle, that he’s having a walloping good time.
It has the visual punch of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the manic physical comedy of The Mask, and the savage barbarism of a Roadrunner cartoon. Chow seems to have been heavily influenced by the Roadrunner, a master of impassive violence.
It comes down to this: the only real difference between the violence in a Roadrunner cartoon and the violence in Kung Fu Hustle, is that one uses drawings and one uses people.
But somehow, watching a real human head get bashed into a five foot hole in the concrete doesn’t seem much worse than watching it happen to Wile E. Coyote with a boulder.
Here is the big difference though — and it might seem like a contradiction — but the big difference is that, when all is said and done, Looney Tunes are cartoons for kids, and Kung Fu Hustle is a lustrous example of great, genre-defying film.
Often, the highest quality films aren’t as audience-friendly as the masses want them to be. Kung Fu Hustle is one of a few films that is both continuously, wildly entertaining and a technical bull’s-eye.
Chow stars as an ersatz bad guy; a mop-topped transient named Sing who wanders the streets stealing and bullying in 1930s Hong Kong. He unwittingly stumbles into a fierce war between the suave and powerful Axe gang and the dirt poor residents of Pig Sty Alley.
But Chow doesn’t take over star duties until audiences have been properly introduced to a myriad of colorful and certifiably wacky characters: a cranky landlady (Yuen Qiu) in curlers who’s shrill scream can wipe out villages; a pair of musical assassins who magically pluck sabers from their instruments; and a flip-flop wearing asylum inmate named The Beast who (surprise surprise!) is the greatest warrior in the world.
The Axe gang recruits The Beast (Leung Siu Lung) to help them bring down Pig Sty Alley, which has been more of a challenge than they anticipated. Pig Sty Alley has masters of combat among them.
When The Beast comes to town, however, Pig Sty Alley must find their own hero to come face to face with the greatest fighter any of them have ever seen.
Chow pokes fun at the classic Kung Fu genre as well as American movies including The Shining and Spider-Man. The clever pop culture references are just one of the many surprises of Kung Fu Hustle. The movie, unfettered by the distractions of labored, serious writing and directing, exudes untroubled mirth.
Rated: R, for sequences of strong stylized action and violence. Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes
New on DVD:
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