Review: Kung Fu Hustle (2004)

Hai-yah!!! If I was 10 and watched this film I would have high-kicked my way out of the cinema. But as a, *ahem*, mature and none-too-lithe adult… I just made do with imagining I was high-kicking.

Although I didn’t kick and punch my way out of the cinema, I can understand how Stephen Chow felt when he saw his first Bruce Lee film. If this was the feeling he was trying to recreate for his audience, his effort is not too shabby at all. Three years in the making, Kung Fu Hustle is worth the wait.

It opens with a bang at the police station and ends in a candy store. In between, the movie kicks up some serious ‘fu’ from the slums of the deliciously named Pig Sty Alley to the heavens and back again, with dancing criminals thrown in to liven up the proceedings.

Employing the talents of many veteran martial artists from yester-year such as Yuen Wah, Yuen Qiu and Leung Siu Lung, Chow has taken the genre and turned it on its head. In parts, Kung Fu Hustle is slapstick, comedy drama, clever parodies and at its zaniest, it’s a freaking cartoon, complete with Roadrunner zip-offs. Nothing is sacred and Chow isn’t too precious about the fact he’s using CGI either. Anything goes, it seems. Instead of trying to blend them seamlessly, the CGI is used with aplomb in amazingly ludicrous but funny spoofs of Spiderman and The Matrix. Ah, but there’s more.

The wacky comedy deceptively hides the pedigree of this production. Yuen Woo Ping and Sammo Hung were credited as choreographers. Sony put in some big bucks and Chow wrote and directed. The editing and cinematography is superb as well, although you’d probably be too busy laughing to notice much of that on first viewing. The set design is also excellent: the loving attention to detail on the fictional 1920s sin-city [modelled on Shanghai], and Pig Sty Alley, with its many references to the period, is a marvellous Western shanty town-like recreation.

As mentioned, there are some real-deal martial arts stars in this movie. Their collective experience is so impressive you wouldn’t want to fight any of them for the last dim-sum on the plate, you know what I mean? Needless to say, they rock.

Chow is credited with creating these so-called ‘nonsense’ or ‘mou le tou’ comedies. That implies his comedies do not make sense or you won’t get his humour. Rubbish, I say. The gags in Hustle made a hella lot of sense to me and to the rest of the audience, who were too busy cacking their pants to even think about anything else. Chow still has a strong pulse for what’s funny and the jokes here are reminiscent of his earlier works, like From Beijing With Love or Forbidden City Cop. Admittedly, several familiar themes, such as the ‘zero to hero’ central story and the food-related love interest [this time she sells ice-cream], are repeated, but that’s a minor detraction.

Although Chow’s mug is all over the poster, his screen time is a lot less. This could be because Yuen Wah and Yuen Qiu are adept at stealing all his thunder, but it’s more likely that Chow has written himself a smaller role because above all else, Kung Fu Hustle is Chow’s heartfelt but wacky homage to the genre. Worthy of repeated viewings and definitely worthy of the DVD purchase too.

9.5 bum cracks out of 10.
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