When I rented Kung-Fu Hustle, I assumed that it was another B-grade spoof. At best, an Airplane, Zucker-Abrams-Zucker sort of martial arts movie. I hoped it would be as good as Kung Pow: Enter the Fist.
Kung-Fu Hustle is indeed a spoof of martial arts films. But this is no roll-your-eyes B-grade film. It is a beautiful, breath-taking, hilarious film that acknowledges and embraces the most ludicrous aspects of martial arts films, uses them to make you howl with laughter, and then continues on to make what is actually a wonderful martial arts movie in its own right.
The story follows a young man named Sing, a loser who aspires to become a violent criminal so that he can get wealth, women and respect. (Mostly some respect.) The easy target he picks is a slum called Pig Sty Alley, run by a lecherous landlord and his high-volume, hard-hearted wife. Sing and his cousin pretend to be gangsters, but the poor, working folk of Pig Sty Alley are unusually difficult to intimidate. When the real Axe Gang shows up, a war of kung fu one-upmanship begins, escalating from a screaming landlady versus a wannabe thug to the ultimate showdown between the most ruthless killer in the world and The Chosen One.
Stephen Chow writes, directs and stars in this delightful creation. The atmosphere is one part Tim Burton's Big Fish, one part Charlie Chaplin, one part Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and with good reason -- the fight sequences were choreographed by Yuen Wo Ping (famed action choreographer of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Matrix). The special effects are incredible, not for being state of the art, but for their use as story-telling aids. There is a current of ridiculousness throughout the whole film that is played to absolute, deadpan perfection.
The humor is a fairly polite PG-13, with nothing worse than the occasional use of "shit" and a recurring, deadpan sight gag with an effeminate hairdresser who takes plumber's crack to an extreme in what is presumably an attempt to look attractive.
Final word: This isn't hokey, this is an outstanding martial arts action film that has taken quirky to a bow-down-and-worship level. If you like action, comedy or martial arts; if you like artful blends of fantasy and humor; if you have ever suspected your neighbors of being more than they seem, you will enjoy this film. Take whatever my highest approval rating has been in the past and double it. This was truly a great film.
On the web: http://www.sonypictures.net/movies/kungfuhustle/site/
and more great stills and excellent analysis at http://members.optushome.com.au/stephenchiau/kungfu%20hustle.htm
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