Rated: R Reviewed by: Jim Release date: April 8, 2005 Released by: Sony Pictures Classics
A chop-socky comedy that is wild and creatively crazy is Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle.
Chow, who made the poorly promoted Shaolin Soccer, has the spirit of martial arts on his mind, cataloguing kung-fu fighting styles from Bruce Lee in the 70's to the acrobatic and the special f/x’s more prevalent in the last decade. This interpretation by the director-writer-star and producer is a boyish escape to prove he can showcase the kung fu hero on screen.
The chief setting is the 1930's Pig Sty Alley, a lively teeming neighborhood on the outskirts of a Chinese city, a kind of horseshoe-shaped high-rise tenement. It’s pre-revolutionary China.
The landlord (Yuen Wah) is self-centered and doesn’t look out for his tenants, except for the girls that leave lipstick on his cheek. His wife (Yuen Qui), a bond girl back in the day of Roger Moore, always has a cigarette hanging out of her mouth. She does the dirty work to collect the rent and somehow maintains order in this overstuffed ghetto with a kind of lion’s roar.
Chow provides a realistic view of lower-class life with occupants clustered from the chaotic peril of the big city. There are laborers, merchants, and businessmen and their housewives.
The cool title has a kick to it from the entrance of the ruthless Axe Gang. These sophisticates are fleet of foot with their top hats and black suits and sport a nasty presence. The story turns on a couple of Axe Gang wannabes, one of which is Chow’s Sing, who are trying to blackmail the residents to infiltrate the gang. The intimidation sets off a clash between the denizens (not who they appear to be) and the Axe Gang that produces some outlandishly entertaining scenes.
The idea of a scruffy underdog taking on the enormity of these dapper miscreants is nothing new. Some sub-text to the Sing character comes from encounters with a pretty, mute ice cream vendor (Huang Sheng Yi). Musical notes from a harp are instruments of force like soccer balls were in Shaolin Soccer and the acutely presented action choreography by Yuen Wo Ping (The Matrix) often defies physics. Though Chow is paying homage to the kung fu masters of film in front of and behind the camera like Zhang Yimou (Hero), he also incorporates the mind set of seminal cartoon creator Chuck Jones, the man behind WB’s “Looney Tunes.”
This explosive parody revels in its presentation of caricatures like The Beast (who can transform into a fearsome toad), a gay tailor with red underwear, and the no-nonsense landlady (watch her inhale) who has a couple of moments when she would make a nice replacement for The Roadrunner. Thus, the cartoonish mayhem and detailed editing sharply reduces the graphic quotient of the action and extended punishing violence. Yes, Kung Fu Hustle is incredibly exaggerated, but elegantly harnesses its hysteria in and around the Pig Sty and a glitzy Axe Gang casino in ways that Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan could smile at.
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