By Kyle Francis
Walking into Kung Fu Hustle, it’s difficult to know what to expect. The title and trailer for the film promised many people getting punched, kicked and hit with things, but the hype remained ambiguous. Considering the movie actually has the words “kung fu” in the title, most would anticipate a cut-and-dry martial arts punch-fest about a pupil avenging the death of his master or some such. It’s probably safe to say no one expected a kung fu fairy tale epic complete with beautiful and sweeping special effects wrapped in Bugs Bunny physics.
The film follows several characters’ exploits in a nameless city, but the film centers around the adventure of a ne’er-do-well by the name of Sing (Stephen Chow). Sing desperately wants to join “The Axe Gang”–the baddest group of mama jammas this side of the Great Wall. His reluctant good nature, though, prevents him from ever being a bad enough guy to join their ranks. In his attempts to impress the Axes, he inadvertently starts a gang war between the Axes and the residents of a slum called “Pig Sty.” Normally, a war between hundreds of hardened gangsters and a handful of hobos would last about 20 seconds, but these hobos happen to include five of the world’s most revered kung fu masters among their ranks. As delightfully ridiculous as this plot already sounds, it only escalates from there.
Kung Fu Hustle works where similar films fail by being so damned clever. Every single shot, character and fight sequence has a hint of ’90s Saturday morning cartoon sensibility, but the movie is able to maintain its operatic scale. An introductory sequence, reminiscent of A West Side Story, sets the easy-going, yet very cinematic tone of the movie, but doesn’t prevent villains as strange and unique as those old Megaman bosses. Absolutely everything about the movie’s direction, script and humor displays a subtle mastery of storytelling. Put simply: there is no way this movie could be improved. It’s perfect.
Other movies of this ilk take themselves too seriously. Let’s face itÂ–the idea of a lone hero facing off against droves of enemies to avenge the death of his master is ridiculous. The sense of humor prevalent in Kung Fu Hustle is mostly irreverent, with many of the jokes taking digs at the genre. This humor, prevalent in all of Stephen Chow’s movies, combined with some action scenes nothing short of badass keeps Kung Fu Hustle from being just a novelty.
Most of all, it’s an absolute riot of a good time. Movies like this are the reason movie theatres were invented–you would be hard pressed to have more fun. Who knew that cartoons, drama, martial arts and a dash of super heroes, all thrown into a blender, would produce a dram so delicious?