"Kung Fu Hustle" is an entertaining visual feast. The film is written, directed, and starring Stephen Chow. The rest of the cast is also made up of all Asian actors as the film is subtitled. The story is set in Shanghai; China in the 1940's which makes for a very unique setting. The film fuses martial arts action and comedy in a way all its own which makes for a very creative and unusual watch. The fight sequences are done by famous action choreographer Yuen Wo Ping ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "The Matrix"). They are extremely fast paced, visually stimulating, and downright groundbreaking.
The film opens up explaining that gangs have the power throughout Shanghai. The most powerful and notorious of which is called the Axe gang. Sing (Stephen Chow) is an aspiring gangster who wants nothing more to become part of the infamous clan. In the meantime, the only place for the people to live in peace is the slum since the gangs have no interest in its poor territory. The slum is called Pig Sty Alley and is run by a hilarious couple known as Landlady and Landlord (Qiu Yuen and Wah Yuen). The Landlady is very obnoxious yet her scenes are funny as hell and the role is played wonderfully by Yuen.
After trying to extort money from Pig Sty Alley's barber acting as if he is a gangster from the Axe gang, Sing and his friend Bone catch the attention of the real Axe gang which brings them into Pig Sty Alley. From there it is uncovered that some true martial arts masters inhibit Pig Sty Alley and a feud between them and the axe gang soon erupts. It is then up to Sing to decide if he still wants to be a notorious gangster or transform into the hero that will save the day.
As I previously stated, the fight sequences throughout this film will keep you glued to the screen. They are some of the most well done martial arts fight scenes that I have personally witnessed in my own history of watching cinema. Words cannot even describe nor do these sequences justice as they truly should be seen to be believed. Also, even though the violence in these fights is stylized and "cartoony", there is a fair amount of blood and realism that make them stand out even more. The other huge component that makes this film successful is its use of comedy and its overall sense of humor. A lot of this movie is freaking hysterical.
The new special edition DVD (the "Axe-Kickin' Edition") is a great addition to the DVD collection. The disc is loaded with special features including a Comedy Central interview with Stephen Chow, outtakes and bloopers, storyboard comparisons, and three behind the scenes featurettes which include "Dressed to Kill" on the film's costume design, "Bringing Down the House" on the production design, and "Organized Chaos" on the fight choreography. These bonus features are great and it truly shows the work and thought that went into the completion of this film. The "Organized Chaos" portion, especially, was very informative and interesting.
In conclusion, "Kung Fu Hustle" is a sight to behold. The near perfect blend of comedy and unbelievable martial arts action makes for one hell of an entertaining film. It is another foreign effort that makes the viewer completely forget that they are even reading subtitles. This fact, in my opinion, is the best measurement of how god a foreign movie is. If the viewer doesn't even think about the subtitles they have to read throughout the movie, it is a great testament to what is happening on screen. The big climax and final fight scene to the film is yet another sight to behold and is probably the best sequence in the entire film. It is a "grand finale" that is befitting to such a martial arts gem of a motion picture. "Kung Fu Hustle" is a must see for any martial arts fan and also for any moviegoer. It is one of those rare films that exceeds being a movie and becomes an experience that any fan should undertake.
Rating - ***
- Jared Bajoras