Sunday, April 16, 2006

Kung Fu Hustle (2004)

A friend lent this Hong Kong surreal-comic masterpiece a few weeks ago, and I finally got around to seeing it. Kung Fu Hustle was released in 2004, but didn't make general North America release until the early fall of 2005. Kung Fu Hustle is the follow up release of Stephen Chow's Shaolin Soccer (2001) -- follow up, in that Shaolin Soccer was the film that garnered him widespread North American exposure, even though he's quite known in his native China. Kung Fu Hustle was written, directed and starred Stephen Chow.

[Spoiler Warning]

The movie starts off by establishing the Axe Gang -- they carry axes and use them -- offing a rival gang -- including a dance sequence by the Axe Gang that reminded me of a Michael Jackson music video. It then introduces the would be hero, Sing, who is wandering through life, making no progress and up to no good. Sing decides to extort a debilitated neighbourhood called Pig Sty Alley for his own financial gains, but quickly runs into problems that brings the Axe Gang crashing the party. Pig Sty Alley, run by Landlady and Landlord ... and is no push over.

The Axe Gang's first foray into Pig Sty Alley leads to their embarrassing defeat at the hands, feet, and kung fu, of three retired martial arts experts living in the neighbourhood: Donut, Tailor and Coolie. Beaten and pissed, the Axe Gang brings in hired help in the Harpists -- two kung fu hitmen who's deady weapon of choice is an ancient Chinese harp. The Harpists catch Donut, Tailor and Coolie by surprise, and while the trio puts up a good fight, are defeated. Pig Sty Alley has other surprises however, as the Landlord and Landlady are also kung fu masters. They off the Harpists, then go after the Axe Gang.

With the defeat of the Harpists, the Axe Gang tricks Sing into freeing the Beast -- a number one, undefeated kung fu master -- who's set against Landlord and Landlady. The Beast was driven mad by his martial arts study, and was locked up in an insane asylum. Landlord and Landlady soon realize they are no match for the Beast, but in their fight with him, Sing gets involved, and the Beast unwittingly unleashes Sing's blocked qi. It is then up to Sing to defeat the Beast and the Axe Gang, single-handedly.

The plot moves like the kung fu in the movie. To the uninitiated, there will be a resounding, WTF? This is not the martial arts of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Hero. There is no grace and art in the sparring -- it's pure chaos. The martial arts is stunning and frenetic. But if you're a fan of the genre, you will find there is beauty in chaos. The film leverages a lot of special effects -- especially for the fight scenes and cartoon-inspired lunacy. Chow borrows and pays tribute to martial arts classics, Looney Tunes cartoons, the Matrix trilogy, Spider-Man and a host of other movies in Kung Fu Hustle. This comedy masterpiece is hard to characterize -- other than it being an action-comedy, which does come close to describing the film. It's definitely a must watch. I now regret not having seen it when it was in theatres a few months ago. It would have been even better on the big screen.

You can find more clips on YouTube:

1 comment:

  1. Andy,

    You are right, it is very hard to characterize the movie. It was mixed, that make this mover to be the best movie of HK in 2004.

    When I watched the movie with Serena, I did not like it at the beginning because I was not a fun of Kung-Fu movie, neither was Serena and Xiaowei. Gradually, we started like it because it is quite different from other Kung-Fu movie. At the end, Serena said that this Kung Fu movie is so amazing to put so many things together, song and dance, martial art and Chinese philosophy.

    Stephen Chow is one of best director and actor in Hong Kong although not a lot Americans know him till now.

    Stephen Chou is nowadays one of the very famous actor and director in Asian Country.


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