Kung Fu Hustle (2004)
Reviewed on 2009 November 10
When I was a kid and trying to avoid my homework on Saturday afternoons, I could usually find something more pressing and important, like watching badly dubbed Asian movies on UHF frequencies so high that only dogs should have been able to register them. I always had a soft spot for Godzilla but I really enjoyed the kung fu flicks, and If you were really lucky you’d catch something like a Bruce Lee movie. One afternoon my dad was teasing me for watching one until he sat down and got pulled in too. It is something most people get a kick out of, even if they don’t want to admit to it, and I think director Stephen Chow knows it. When he directed Kung Fu Hustle, he paid tribute to those old flicks, but he did it with style, a sense of humor and — are you sitting down? — a plot.
In 1940s China, the notorious Axe Gang terrorizes the towns, murdering and stealing and living large. The leader, Brother Sum (Kwok-Kwan Chan) is a villain’s villain, with his slicked-back hair and mustache, and he soon turns his attention to Pig Sty Alley, a slum so poor that the Axe Gang previously ignored it. Meanwhile, Sing (Chow) is a bad-boy wannabe, trying to convince the town’s landlady (a hilarious performance by Qiu Yuen) that he’s a member of the gang and tries shaking the people down. The landlady has no problem single-handedly beating the snot out of Sing, but all the residents of Pig Sty pulling together their supernatural martial arts skills may not be enough to thwart the gang.
This veers from an homage to ’70s martial arts to Warner Brothers cartoon references, and I loved it. In between the silliness it also manages to tell a story, in its own loopy way. The acting was cartoony when it was supposed to be and straight when it wasn’t, and if that’s not enough overall, it was one of the most creative things I think I’ve seen. My favorite bit was the Zither Fu. How do people come up with this stuff?
Three chocolate morsels, and some dim sum, because I think there’s something here to make most people happy.