Monday, July 18, 2005
Movie Review: "Kung Fu Hustle"
Starring Stephen Chow, Yuen Wah, Yuen Qui, Leung Siu Lung, Shengyi Huang
Directed by Stephen Chow
For better or for worse, the recent "Matrix" trilogy has brought a veritable slew of martial arts movies to American cinema. Some Asian actors have made a very respectable career appearing in the genre, with Jackie Chan the most notable name to audiences in America. His movies have typically employed at least some element of comedy into its action scenes, as Chan has said in interviews that Buster Keaton is one of his main influences.
One relatively new name from the Far East that is emerging in America is Stephen Chow. Having received a poor distribution deal from Miramax for 2002's "Shaolin Soccer," Chow managed to earn a wide release earlier this year for "Kung Fu Hustle," an off-the-wall action comedy with energy to spare. If I were to guess one of Chow's influences, I would say Looney Tunes cartoons would have to be right up there.
Chow who co-wrote and directed the film, also stars as Sing, a petty thief who makes the mistake of impersonating a member of a much feared Hong Kong gang.
The Axe Gang, who as you might expect, use axes as their weapon of choice, are a well choreographed gang who break into dance when the mood strikes them. They have been terrorizing much of the city for quite some time, with the exception of Pig Sty Alley, an impoverished neighborhood they have no interest in – that is until Sing sullies their reputation there after getting beat up by the residents. The sequence leading up to it is quite amusing, as Sing challenges who he believes to be weak members of the neighborhood to a fight, only to be sorely disappointed in his choices.
As Sing and the Axe Gang quickly deduce, several kung fu masters are taking up residence in the neighborhood, forcing the bad guys to bring in reinforcements. In turn, it seems everyone in the neighborhood is capable of holding their own, including the foul-tempered landlady (Yuen Qiu), whose screaming is a weapon all its own.
Combining excellent choreography from Yuen Wo Ping and CGI, the action is simultaneously amazing and completely unbelievable. Chow seemingly holds nothing back, especially later in the movie when his character discovers his own inner kung fu master, as he and a powerful villain known as The Beast defy gravity, among other things, in their climatic showdown.
Nothing can really be taken too seriously in this film, and Chow and the rest of the cast seem to know it. Finding a right balance between action and comedy can be a tricky endeavor, and while some of the jokes fall flat, Chow keeps the pace so frenetic (some may say too frenetic), it becomes difficult to care. That said, this is definitely a style over substance affair.
Paying homage to a cornucopia of movies, such as "The Shining," "Gangs of New York" and "The Matrix," "Kung Fu Hustle" practically plays as a live-action cartoon. Characters such as Bugs Bunny and the Road Runner would feel right at home in this universe. In this case, that's probably a good thing.
(Rated R for sequences of strong stylized action and violence.)