Imagine a Jackie Chan movie on amphetamines and steroids with an LSD chaser, and you get some idea of what Stephen Chow’s new movie “Kung Fu Hustle” is like.Combining a breakneck pace with a series of endlessly inventive gags, this new comedy makes a vice of subtlety. The film’s energy is so overwhelming that taking a breath and blinking seem like needless luxuries.
Following the theory of more is more, Chow and his army of co-writers follows the fortunes of a Chinese neighborhood dubbed Pig Sty Alley. The working class section is so run down that gangsters, lacking anything to gain, avoid it.
Pig Sty Alley quickly loses its tranquility when a pair of winnable gangsters named Sing (Chow) and “Sing’s sidekick” (Chi Chung Lam) attempt to intimidate the locals by claiming to be members of the deadly Axe Gang. The two quickly discover there is a another reason that career criminals avoid the area. The locals can fight back and inflict serious damage on would be assailants.
Sensing impending doom, Sing summons the real Axe gang, who quickly learn that even they are no match for the residents. Soon even the gangsters find themselves outsourcing more ferocious and exotic assassins to subdue the neighborhood and keep their grip on the rest of the city.
This sums up the story but little of the charm of “Kung Fu Hustle.” Chow’s imagination flies everywhere. You never know who is a civilian in this battle or who is secretly a powerful warrior. For example, two deadly assassins are blind musicians whose harps hurl sharp but semi-visible projectiles at their victims.
The battles are a dazzling blend of real martial arts acrobatics (supervised by Yuen Woo-Ping and the great Sammo Hung) and computer generated effects that turn ordinary foot chases into cartoon zips.
At the same time, Chow creates likable if not terribly deep characters. While he may be the nominal lead, he has no aversion to sharing the spotlight with eccentric characters actors like Wah Yuen as the Landlord and Qiu Yuen as the Landlady. The two steal just about every scene they are in.With his uniquely violent silliness, Chow has created a flick that masterfully blends serious martial arts and pure insanity.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Toronto Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival. For more in the 2005 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 SXSW Film Festival. For more in the 2005 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.