Film Review: Kung Fu Hustle (2004)

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(source: tmdb.org)

Two decades ago, when the globalisation was seen as permanent fact of life, Chinese cinema was attempting to take its slice of international market pie. This trend was twofold – through grand period epics, usually associated with mainland China, and through more genre films, like comedies, action and gangster film associated with Hong Kong, One notable example of the later trend is the 2004 period martial arts comedy, Kung Fu Hustle, directed by Stephen Chow.

Chow, who also took part in writing and production, stars as Sing, a petty street criminal in 1940s Shanghai, who dreams of joining the notorious Axe Gang, led by Brother Sum (Danny Chan Kwok-kwan). Sing and his friend Bone (played by Lam Chi-chung) are drawn into the conflict between the Axe Gang and the residents of Pigsty Alley, a slum ruled by the Landlady (played by Yuen Qiu) and Landlord (played by Yuen Wah), who are, like many of their tenants, actually skilled martial arts masters. As the conflict escalates, Sing discovers that he possesses perfect kung fu skills, which he uses to join the battle against the Axe Gang.

Stephen Chow is one of the most prominent stars of Hong Kong cinema, who gained international fame with his 2002 comedy, Shaolin Soccer. This success had a lot to do with mixing martial arts with the world’s most popular sport. Kung Fu Hustle takes somewhat more localised approach, inspired by Hong Kong cinema, and works as parody of popular Hong Kong wuxia films, as well as some lesser-known comedies from past decades.

The film's visual style is a key aspect of its success. Chow combines impressive martial arts sequences with slapstick humour, enhanced by a large budget for Hong Kong standards. The result is a film that often resembles a cartoon, with gravity-defying wirework and CGI. The action and dark humour, which includes some potentially disturbing violence, can be off-putting for some viewers, but the film's surreal quality is part of its charm.

Chow also pays homage to various films, including Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, Brian De Palma's The Untouchables, and the Wachowskis' The Matrix. The latter is not surprising, given that Yuen Woo Ping, the legendary martial arts choreographer, worked on both films. The film's dance numbers, inspired by 1930s Hollywood musicals, add another layer of surreality.

The acting in Kung Fu Hustle is generally good, with standout performances from the Yuen Qiu and Yuan Hwa. However, the film suffers from predictability and an unnecessary over-sentimental subplot involving a mute street vendor played by Huang Shengyi. Despite these flaws, Kung Fu Hustle became a great hit, both domestically and internationally, including in North America where two very different English language versions – subtitled and dubbed - xist.

Kung Fu Hustle is a unique and entertaining film that showcases Stephen Chow's ability to blend martial arts, comedy, and action. While it may not be perfect, its surreal quality and impressive visual style make it a standout in the world of martial arts cinema.

RATING: 6/10 (++)

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2 comments
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This is one of my favorites, it is so funny.

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This movie is a classic, I remember watching it with my father a few years later, when he was a little older, good post.