Growing up as a kid, I always wanted to unlock my inner Kung Fu master which, as you know, all Chinese have. Though it was only after seeing Stephen Chow’s movies, that I realized the true potential of Kung Fu…slapstick comedy.
Kung Fu Hustle?
Shanghai in the 1940’s, it’s a time of civil unrest and gang violence. The band on top is the Axe Gang; a bunch of axe-wielding mobsters in suits. Sing is a small time thief who wants to enter the notorious gang for the sake of money and women. He poses as an Axe member and tries to blackmail the people of a small slum called Pig Sty Alley. But when it comes down to a confrontation between the actual Axe Gang and the slumlords, the Pig Sty villagers reveal themselves as true Kung Fu masters.
Kung Fu Hustle is an action/comedy film directed by Stephen Chow. Now for anyone who is not familiar with the name —basically anyone who doesn’t eat rice on a daily basis— Stephen Chow’s movies are extravagant to say the least, even for Chinese standards. A rule of thumb when watching any of his films is: don’t take it too seriously and ease up on the logic. Even though it’s a movie about Kung Fu masters —duh doy— they’re depicted more as superheroes and -villains. Think of it as The Looney Tunes meets The Avengers meets Enter the Dragon. If that comparison sounds even half as awesome to you as it does to me; take out the Dim Sum and saddle up for an absurd ride.
So we have guys flying through the air, musicians shooting blades and a groping slumlord. Which is great and all, but it is so much more than that. Chow made a movie that is not only funny, but also immensely referential and surprisingly political. The movie has an insane amount of references to both Eastern and Western cinema. There are obvious shout-outs like the references to The Matrix and The Shining, but there are also subtle nods to movies like Raging Bull and Enter the Dragon. The political message is nowhere as subtle, with the Axe Gang being an obvious representation of the Westernized financial elite of China; and the masters of Pig Sty being the common folk. A nice touch nonetheless.
Even though the plot is a textbook zero-to-hero story, it still racks up points for originality by being uncompromising and brutally honest. The term “politically correct” does not belong in this movie’s vocabulary. Kung Fu Hustle tells its story in a fun and colorful way, but without holding back. And it shows in the characters.
The special effects are very…uhm, special and there are several extremely cringe-worthy moments. But if you’re able to get past that, you’ll see an excellent work of art that was ahead of its time. Kung Fu Hustle defies the laws of gravity and physics, delivering gratifying violence and some belly-achingly funny moments —that knife scene though—. It might seem goofy on the surface, but it’s well thought out and executed with a passion. Twelve years after its release, still recommended.
Kung Fu Hustle is the movie equivalent of a:
Happily ever after
True love. You still remember the first time you saw it. You can’t even hear the haters, this is life.
Suitable for: Anyone who ever wanted to be the “Chosen One”.
Not suitable for: Kung Fu purists and salt miners.
Writer/Director/Producer: Stephen Chow
Stars: Stephen Chow, Wah Yuen, Qiu Yuen
Duration: 99 minutes
Language: Cantonese/Mandarin (don’t watch the dubbed version, be a man.)