KUNG FU HUSTLE
Stephen Chow has constructed Kung Fu Hustle as a parody of Hong Kongs Wu Xia cinema, which of course found huge success in the West in recent years with The Matrix (1999), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) and a horde of other films that imitated their moves. Chow has been granted a much larger budget than usual the production even went to Australia to shoot and this shows on screen in the lavishness of production values. Chow has also employed Yuen Wo-ping, who has become acknowledged as the god of Hong Kong action choreography ever since the Wachowski Brothers brought him to attention (as well as the lesser-known Sammo Hung who directs several sequences).
It is during the martial arts sequences that Kung Fu Hustle comes to life. The first handful of these are relatively mundane (ie. non-fantastic) a sequence with the three masters taking on about a hundred or so Axe Gang members all at once and it is some time before the film opens out into fantastical moves. When it does these are quite stunning. The first up is a bizarrely wacky scene with Stephen Chow and Yuen Qiu racing through the streets at high speeds rather like DC Comics The Flash. There then comes a sequence that floors you with the landlord and landlady taking on two assassins who wield a double-decker guzheng harp that produces waves of deadly sound, materializes flung swords and even an entire army of flying undead as they strum its strings. The battles between The Beast and the landlord and landlady, punching people through walls and wielding giant cast iron bells as sound weapons, are hugely entertaining. The films show capper is rightfully the climax where Stephen Chows anti-hero emerges into his own and takes on The Beast, with Chow punching hordes of Axe Gang members through walls as though they were cannonballs or sending dozens flying up into the air in unison, and in one wonderfully wacky scene being tossed up into the air, bouncing off the back of a gull and reaching up to touch the face of Buddha before returning to Earth with his Buddhas Palm powers intact, flattening The Beast in a giant palm imprint in the ground and leaving the outline of a hand blasted through the block of apartments.
It is all immensely entertaining. The plot holding the film together is fairly straightforward as this type of film goes. Stephen Chow specializes in this kind of physical high-energy comedy the film is often raucous and loud and he never seems to worry too much about making fun of gays or physical deformity. There are however some uproarious slapstick sequences with him being multiply impaled during bumbling sidekick Chi Chung Lams attempts to throw knives or in the scenes where he attempts to find an opponent among the gathered crowd of Pig Sty locals.
Chow casts himself as another of the self-effacing loser roles that he seems to have a preference for, although the surprise about this is that for the bulk of the film his character is sidelined and the action carried by the landlord, landlady and others, and it is not until the very last act that he finally emerges into his powers. This tends to throw off the heroic arc of the story throughout Chows loser hero is made the butt of numerous jokes and then all of a sudden abruptly emerges into his powers, which feels like it comes without any heroic earning. Nevertheless, Kung Fu Hustle is an enormously funny and engaging film.
(Winner in this sites Top 10 Films of 2004 list).