KUNG FU HUSTLE
In a Shanghai slum nicknamed Pig Sty Alley, residents and business owners cower in the presence of a cruel landlady (Yuen Qiu), but at least take comfort from the fact that their poverty-stricken neighbourhood is largely left alone by the city's criminal gangs. All that changes when the notorious Axe Gang muscles in and begins a war that looks to have only one possible outcome. At first, the locals' only hope appears to be Sing (Stephen Chow), a small-time operator whose impersonation of an Axe Gang member sparked the trouble. As the battle heats up, it seems many martial arts masters have been hiding in Pig Sty Alley and their re-emergence gives the downtrodden new hope in the turf war.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
High farce meets low blow in Stephen Chow's splashy and flashy follow up to Shaolin Soccer. With much higher stakes and a bigger SFX budget, Chow unleashes his bottomless pit of visual jokes amidst major action routines that are aided and expanded with the help of digital demonics.
The film is described as both a labour of love and the fulfilment of dreams since his childhood, when he became an avid Bruce Lee fan. There are plenty of 'homage points' reminding us of Bruce Lee, but Chow also pays homage to The Matrix and several other action flicks.
Characters are larger than life and in some cases so is the action, which combines many forms of known martial arts, as well as several jokey moves with names like Roaring Lion - the speciality of the Landlady, Yuen Qui, famous Hong Kong star of the 70s who was dragged out of retirement and gained 15 kilos in two months for the role.
Yuen Wah plays the Landlord and represents a direct connection to Bruce Lee; it was Yuen Wah who has appeared in dozens of Hong Kong films, who lost the crucial fight against Bruce Lee's character in The Chinse Connection.
The action plot is built into a slight romantic subplot, in which the young Sing comes upon a bunch of bullies trying to steal a little mute girl's lollipop. He tries to defend her but they overpower him and humiliate him, pissing on his prone body in the dust. Now a grown up ice cream stall operator, the mute girl recognises Sing but it's only at the end of the story he remembers - thanks to the lollipop she has kept in a box all these years. It's a cute softener, and gives our hero a suitable motivation to be a tough guy, as well as being a neat cinematic exit plan.
Review by Richard Kuipers:
It's probably only a matter of time before Stephen Chow skips off to Hollywood and the mediocrity that has befallen his countrymen John Woo and Ronny Yu, but for the time being let's celebrate the razzle-dazzle of Kung Fu Hustle. Although cut from almost exactly the same cloth as his previous hit Shaolin Soccer - apparently hopeless characters reveal themselves as martial arts champions in disguise - Kung Fu Hustle is made with such infectious humour and gee-whiz visuals it's easy to simply surrender all over again to Chow's brand of lunacy. Where else are we likely to see top hat-wearing, axe-wielding gangsters shimmying down sidewalks like they're in a Hollywood musical, while the décor behind them simultaneously invokes the ghosts of Warner Brothers' gangster pics of the 30s and Shaw Brothers action movies of the 60s and 70s?
If you're a fan of Kung Fu movies past and present, this one is loaded with loving nods to the genre, but it is by no means necessary to have insider knowledge to enjoy Shanghai shenanigans, Stephen Chow-style. Not only has the writer-director-producer-star found the perfect balance of humour and violence to make it work as both a comedy and an action film, he has toned down the excessive mugging that so often stymied acceptance of Hong Kong movies in western markets. Like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, this one is a bona fide entry in the "if you've never seen a Hong Kong action-comedy before, this is a good place to start" stakes.
If there's a small complaint to make, it's the slight overuse of CGI as wannabee gangster Sing (the same character name Chow has used at least five times before) finds himself leading his motley crew into battle. The cartoonish feel of the enterprise is so strongly established in sets, costumes and dialogue, it seems like overkill when CGI takes centre stage in several set pieces. For the most part, however, Chow succeeds in taking our breath away one moment and making us laugh out loud the next as the beleaguered residents of Pig Sty Alley get down and dirty. Naturally Chow's Sing dominates proceedings, but he's far from being the whole show.
Look out for the wonderful performances of Yuen Qiu as the meanest landlady on Earth - "just pay your rent or I'll burn your shop down" - and Yuen Wah (a former stunt double for Bruce Lee) as the sleazy landlord whose chat -up lines run along the lines of "let me come and examine you some time". Anyone who wants to examine this delightful piece of nonsense should like what they find. It's one for the big screen - do not wait for the DVD if at all possible!
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STEPHEN CHOW INTERVIEW
KUNG FU HUSTLE (MA)
CAST: Stephen Chow, Yuen Wah, Leung Siu Lung, Dong Zhi Hua, Chiu Chi Ling, Xing Yu, Chan Kwok Kwan, Yuen Qui, Lam Suet
PRODUCER: Stephen Chow, Chui Po Chu, Jeff Lau
DIRECTOR: Stephen Chow
SCRIPT: Stephen Chow, Tsang, Kan Cheong, Chan Man Keung, Lola Huo
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Poon Han Sang,
EDITOR: Angie Lam
MUSIC: Raymond Wong
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Oliver Wong
OTHER: Action choreography: Yuen Wo Ping
RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sony Pictures
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 11, 2005