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Vince Reports in his take on Kung Fu Hustle

Published April 25, 2005 in Movie Reviews
By Vince Palomarez | Image property of Sony Picture Classics
Kung Fu Hustle Stephen Chow's latest with Kung Fu Hustle
Every now and then a film comes around that makes it hard to separate the inner fanboy in me from the film critic. For some reason I've always had a soft spot in my heart for martial arts films. I grew up watching as many martial arts films as possible from the intense action of Bruce Lee and Sonny Chiba to the humor and gracefulness of Jackie Chan. After awhile though a lot of these films repeated the same type of story with the same type of action, it was usually person A has a problem with person B due to either their town being bullied by some local mob or someone's family member had died and now it was payback time. I had all but given up on one of my favorite genres when a friend of mine introduced me to the films of Stephen Chow. While Chow is a great martial artist he doesn't rely solely on that gimmick for his movies. Inspired by some of the great comedians (Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin) and cartoons (Bugs Bunny) of the 30's and 40's Chow adds a unique take on the martial arts film that really gives it a fresh new feel.

Kung Fu Hustle-Movie Review

With his latest film Kung Fu Hustle, Chow takes on the tremendous task of mixing many genres together (martial arts, slapstick comedy and musical) to make an entertaining film. A far departure from his previous film Shaolin Soccer, Kung Fu Hustle is West Side Story mixed in with a little Looney Tunes and some martial arts action on the top for flavor.

The story centers on Sing (Chow), a morally challenged individual who failed in his one attempt of doing a good deed and has now decided that being bad is the way to got. Sing and his sidekick are trying to join "The Axe Gang" a group of sharply dressed gangsters who run the town. In their desperation to get initiated in the gang the two start trouble in "Pig Sty Alley" a slum run by a very loud landlady and her slacker husband. After being defeated at the hands of the residents of Pig Sty Alley, The Axe Gang vows revenge and declares war. Sing must decide whether he should remain one of the bad guys or help out the residents of Pig Sty Alley and a possible destiny he thought was a lie.

First off, Kung Fu Hustle, visually, is one of the coolest things I have seen in a long time. Chow has created this world where normal rules don't apply and anything is possible. You can really tell Chow was influenced greatly by the old comedies of the 30's in particular the films of Buster Keaton (The General). Keaton always had a way of using facial expressions and physical comedy to get the laughs out of you and Chow is no different. The gags in this film are not rocket science and you've probably seen many of these jokes done thousands of times before, but they are still effective. Just like the old Looney Tunes cartoons Chow makes violence funny in a way that no one gets hurt and people get right back up as if nothing is wrong. There is a great chase scene between Sing and the Landlady that really brings you back to the old Wile E. Coyote/Road Runner cartoons.

The action scenes are by far this films ultimate strong point. Chow was able to hook up with martial arts choreographer god Yuen Woo-Ping (The Matrix, Kill Bill, Iron Monkey) and the results are awesome. Every fight is a thing of beauty. The actors move around as if they are dancing, but the fight maintains its intensity throughout. Every fighter in this film has their own unique identity in terms of their fighting style and it really gives each character their own individuality and coolness factor. Add in some great visual effects and what you get is possibly some of the best stylized fight scenes I have seen in a long time.

Kung Fu Hustle This chick is crazy.
All of the genres that influenced Chow in this film are also the cause of the problems in this film. This film has no identity and it really shows. So many different influences are thrown into this film you really can't peg it down to one. You go from an intense introduction to a dance routine. One moment you are watching a man struggling with his morality to a scene straight out of the Looney Tunes cartoons. Chow has so much to offer that instead of focusing on one great idea he throws them all into one basket and hopes that no one notices the cluster he created. The story is also something that needed a little work. In his determination to make visually spectacular film Chow seems to glance over certain parts of the story in hopes that the viewer doesn't notice or simply doesn't care.

This is where you either really like the film or really hate.

Final Judgment: If you are able to not question a lot of the plot holes, take the bad acting (the tailor in particular had me shaking my head) for what it is and just enjoy the stunning visual entertainment this film has to offer you will not be disappointed. If you're not a fan of martial arts films or have no motivation to enjoy this film for the fun wild ride that it is then you're better off staying as far away from this film as possible. .

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Vince Palomarez
Sources: Image property of Sony Picture Classics

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