Kung Fu Hustle

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 05/09/05 23:34:43

"Yup, it's every bit as fun as you've heard."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Back in “Shaolin Soccer,” Stephen Chow gave us bad guys playing for Team Evil. Now, in “Kung Fu Hustle,” he gives a slum named Pig Sty Alley. If you argue that these names are horribly simplistic, then you just move on with life and ignore Chow’s works. If, however, you get on Chow’s wavelength and see them merely as intentionally silly names built for a quick chuckle, then welcome aboard, you’re about to have one hell of a good time.

If, by chance, you saw “Shaolin Soccer” (preferably in its uncut original form, and not the Miramax edit - but that’s a rant for another day), you may have thought to yourself, “self, this is pretty darn cartoony.” But that was only the appetizer. For “Hustle,” Chow - who directed, co-wrote, co-produced, and stars - gives us the main course, creating an entire cartoon world. Think “Sin City” is a comic book brought to life? Then check out the universe of “Hustle,” which trumps it - here, people can run so fast their legs begin to spin like Wile E. Coyote’s.

The film is a parody of classic martial arts films, which may sound limiting to some audiences. Trust me, it is not. Although Chow has crafted a knowing, winking spoof on the genre, he does not limit himself so much that only those familiar with past works will get the joke. Instead, he broadens his horizons, lampooning films from both east and west, boiling all the parody into one catch-all animated world in which anyone can do anything, especially if it’s funny.

The plot, as much as it can be described: In 1930s Shanghai, gangs control every inch of the city, except for the slums, which are of no interest to criminals. And so the good people of Pig Sty Alley live in peace - well, as peaceful as you can get when your landlady is a chain-smoking, abusive hag (Qiu Yuen) whose shrill voice can shatter glass. Anyway, bumbling gangster wannabe (Chow) rolls into Pig Sty Alley, and, long story short, sets off a chain of events that unleashes the Axe Gang. Fortunately for the good residents of the slum (and unfortunately for the Axe Gang), Pig Sty Alley is home to several anonymous former martial arts masters.

What Chow has done is create a world devoid of physics as we know it, the result being a joyous event for anyone who gets a kick (no pun intended) out of seeing the artistry involved in making a martial arts movie. Kung fu flicks, at their best, are masterworks of inventive choreography and physical prowess equal to the best dancing of, say, Astaire, Rogers, Kelly, and company.

True, Chow takes a cheat by bringing in wires, CGI, and other effects trickery. But this doesn’t cheapen the film like you’d expect. In fact, it heightens it; to Chow, everything has a chance to be used in his martial arts fantasy, be it a musical instrument or rings from a tailor’s shop. Effects allow Chow the chance to exaggerate everything. It’s a dream that flies so high that even when you’re not laughing, you’ll find yourself grinning ear to ear.

Chow’s over-the-topness may not go over well with some, but that’s to be expected. But if you’re in the mood for overplayed-yet-unbustingly successful comedy and insane, endlessly inventive kung fu fantasy action, then come see Chow’s world. It’s an explosion of solid silly fun, kung fu style.

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