KUNG FU HUSTLE

Review by Mark Walters

So everyone knows who Jackie Chan is, and Jet Li seems to have gotten pretty popular in the last few years.  But one must wonder why Stephen Chow hasn't yet become a household name.  Perhaps it's because his films are just so... out there.  Those who have seen SHAOLIN SOCCER can relate.  That film became an underground classic, and is still talked about among martial arts film fans.  Now Chow has a new film, and this one may be more of an homage than an original idea, but it's still rather... out there... in a good way.

Stephen Chow plays a rather misguided man in KUNG FU HUSTLE.

 This movie begins by throwing us a curve ball.  We're introduced to a tough crime boss, who is showing his power by roughing up a cop, in a police station no less!  But as he exits the building, the real villains show up.  The Ax Gang quickly shows they are not a force to be messed with.  These boys dress to the nines and all wield deadly axes, which they're more than happy to use on anyone who gets in their way.  Their leader is so smug he actually dances as he prepares to kill someone.  Cut to Pig Sty Alley, a pathetic poverty stricken village where all hope seems to be lost.  The tenant building is filled with poor souls who despite their various skills seem to have no future.  The landlord is a drunk who flirts with the town sexpot.  The landlady is a chain-smoking heartless woman who lives to punish her villagers.  Enter a stranger named Sing (Chow) and his sidekick.  They show up trying to scam some money out of the broke men and women, and appear to be a real joke.  But things get serious when the Ax Gang shows up, ready to wipe out the town just for the heck of it.  However this place has a surprise in store for them.  A few of the villagers are actually kung fu masters in disguise.  Once they hit their breaking point, these men unleash on the Ax Gang members.  It looks as if the village might now have some unexpected heroes within it.  But the Ax Gang leader doesn't take defeat lightly, and is ready to bring in whoever it takes to win the fight.

A real fighter can take out at least four guys with one punch.

 This film is unlike anything you've ever seen, with the exception of maybe a video game.  The opening is almost like something out of an elaborate Broadway play, and even has hints of WEST SIDE STORY in it.  Other parts of the film poke fun at classic films that feature towns of poverty and their sorrow.  It's like a western, where strangers wander into a village where everyone is poor, and the bad guys show up from time to time to start trouble.  Even though Chow wrote and directed this film, and ultimately becomes the most important character, he does something very interesting with the story.  His character almost takes a backseat to what is going on around him.  It's like he's an observer, watching several events unfold in strange ways.  Sing wants to be a kung fu master, but he too comes from humble beginnings, and has little to his name save for his goofy friend.  The movie is just fun.  I don't know how else to say it.  It's one of those "good time at the movies" type of films.  Some parts are so silly you'll just shake your head.  But all in all it's a great ride.  The fighting scenes are amazing.  Choreography was done by Yuen Woo-ping, who previously brought us the wild action in THE MATRIX.  Every time someone even begins to throw a punch, you know you're in for some cool stuff.  It's obvious that Chow is a fan of American films, especially with the multiple references he sprinkles throughout the script  I just about fell out of my chair when a character spoke Sean Connery's dying line from THE UNTOUCHABLES, and in English no less.  Chow lets us know from the start that this is going to be different from the norm, even for him.  In fact his character introduction has him stomping flat a kid's soccer ball while exclaiming "NO MORE SOCCER!"  But even he can't avoid a few moments of emotional storytelling.  There's a nice subplot about a little girl Sing helped as a kid, and her undying feelings toward him.  It's probably only a matter of time before Hollywood tries to get their hands on Chow for an American production.  Personally I don't know if it would work.  Films like this only work when all the elements are in place just right.  Most importantly though is that is does work.  Overall I think SHAOLIN SOCCER is a better movie in total, but this is still pretty great entertainment.  If you like martial arts films, and want to have a blast in the theater, then this is movie for you.  It's not high art, and the screenplay isn't going to win any awards, but man is it a lot of fun.

BIGFANBOY.com score - On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the best, I give KUNG FU HUSTLE a 8.


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