The Scoop: 2004 R, directed by Stephen Chow and starring Stephen Chow, Wah Yuen, and Qiu Yuen
Tagline: A new comedy unlike anything you have seen before
Summary Capsule: The greatest martial arts showdown of all time… will happen in the crummiest apartment complex of all time. Buy popcorn.
Justin’s Rating: I like Kung Fu Chicken! Wait… that’s Kung Pow. Nevermind.
Justin’s Review: I was an instant fan of actor/director Stephen Chow from the first time I sat down and delighted to the wonderfully zany Shaolin Soccer, possibly the only movie in the world to slap together kung fu and proper ball handling fundamentals. Chow has a kind of crazed earnestness to him, a mix of Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee, and isn’t so interested in making a realistic or artistic flick so much as just an enjoyable one. Kung Fu Hustle is his second movie to get a big notice in the Western world — although his credits go back to the early 80’s — and deservedly landed a plum summer release after the bungling of Shaolin Soccer‘s marketing here in America.
If you’re not familiar with Chow, then Hustle is going to weird you out a bit, particularly when the tackily-named Axe Gang starts dancing in unison for no real reason in the style of 1930’s gangster flicks, but set in China. We think.
Actually, its biggest fault is that Kung Fu Hustle starts out all over the place and doesn’t solidify into a clear plot until about midway through. Heck, even our hero doesn’t materialize until the third act! Although we always moan about predictability in movies, we do need a certain amount of reliable information to go on — this is the good guy, this is the bad guy, here’s the clear threat — to really hunker down and enjoy what we’re watching.
The unnamed oriental city is being controlled by the lamentable Axe Gang (at least until the Chainsaw Gang and the Bloodhound Gang move in to duke it out), where the only vestige of freedom seems to be in one four-story, U-shaped apartment complex lorded over by a beast of a woman with hair curlers and a voice to die for. Literally. Through the efforts of two Axe Gang wanna-bes (Chow and his hefty friend), the boom is lowered on this building and its occupants, and everyone seems to be in for a major beatdown.
But, silly bear, don’t you fret! For this is the Far East, where every third person on the street corner has mastered a supernaturally lethal form of martial arts, and our supposedly benign apartment building happens to house numerous kung fu experts just lying low. Once this reveal happens, the action begins, and your smile will grow. It maybe takes a little too long to get to this point — it’s not boring, necessarily, but not butt-kicking up to here either — but once it happens, the movie launches itself into a gonzo action-fest of mythological proportions.
As with Shaolin Soccer, Chow mixes together incredible feats of martial arts with the assistance of computer fakery to achieve something a little bit higher and more off-center than more refined flicks like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Here, it’s not uncommon to see someone’s head get punched through the floor three times and still survive, nor should we entirely discount the ability to carve a hole through the middle of a building by the sheer force of a blow fifty feet behind it alone. Just… absolutely fun, inventive fights that will certainly make you stand on your couch and beat your chest, howling with delight.
On a side note, my wife asked me why guys tend to get all hyper and start kicking and punching like kung fu idiots after these sorts of films. Calmly, with my right leg whacking away at the back of a chair, I explained that it’s just something that our bodies must do, and it is beautiful in its own way, like menstruation.
Once the Axe Gang is humiliated, they bring in hired assassins to deal with the new threat of the kung fu projects. Would you believe it gets even better from here? I’m not going to spoil what these assassins are like or what techniques are used, but I guaran-freakin’-tee you that you’ve never seen the like in any other movie.
More secret kung fu masters come to light. More insane comedy is thrown at our faces with the intensity and density of whipped crème pies. More butt cracks are shown confoundingly than you’d ever wish to see. And, of course, there’s a deaf mute girl who cries with a single tear snaking down her cheek. It’s bliss.
If Stephen Chow doesn’t want to be serious with his action flicks, why would we even dream of making him? Shut your mouth, grasshopper, and learn from the master.
- Surpassed Shaolin Soccer in February 2005 to become the highest-grossing Hong Kong-made movie in Hong Kong.
- As of 2005, this film had the widest cinematic release in the USA of a foreign language film.
- Two scenes are not directed by Stephen Chow but Sammo Hung Kam-Bo. The “Burly Brawl” parody where the One fights the thousand men in black suits. And the fight in the night, where the three masters face the two musicians.
- Looney Tunes homages
- The evil musicians are reminiscent of The Blues Brothers
- The “great power, great responsibility” line from Spider-Man
- A scene is reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining with blood gushing down a corridor in the Mental Asylum.
- Early in the movie, Sing does a brief trick with a soccer ball. When a child asks Sing if he will teach them, he stomps on the ball, deflating it and declares: “No more soccer.” This scene is an in-joke referring to Stephen Chow’s previous film Shaolin Soccer.
The Beast: All I want is to kill you, or be killed by you.
Landlady: You may know kung fu… but you’re still a fairy.
Sing: No more soccer!
Sing’s Sidekick: Memories can be painful. To forget may be a blessing!
Sing: I never knew you were so deep.
Donut: [in English] What are you prepared to do?
Landlord: We can’t understand what you’re saying!
Donut: [nearing death, grabs the landlord] With great power comes great responsibility…
Landlady: Donut, you are badly hurt. You must keep still.
Donut: This could be the end of a beautiful friendship!
Landlord: Oh, Donut. Tomorrow is another day!
If you liked this movie, try these:
- Shaolin Soccer
- Miracles – Mr. Canton and Lady Rose
- The Matrix Reloaded
- Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon