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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 34.09%
Average: 2.84%
Pretty Bad: 2.27%
Total Crap: 0.57%

14 reviews, 92 user ratings

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Kung Fu Hustle
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by Jay Seaver

"The 'CGI is a poor substitute for good moviemaking' crowd won't like this."
5 stars

On the one hand, to say that Kung Fu Hustle shows that Shaolin Soccer was no fluke is to be rather parochial; even though those are the first Stephen Chow movies to get anything like widespread distribution in America, he's been directing movies for a decade and has been one of Hong Kong's biggest box office draws for about that long. On the other hand, though, it is something of a validation of its predecessor's success, and not just because it is very, very funny. It shows that the effects-heavy, cartoonish style Chow is creating is not just a one-time gimmick, but a bona fide style that Chow can ride for a while and will likely spawn imitators.

The "CGI is a tool of soulless hacks trying to destroy film as a medium" crowd aren't going to get any more ammunition here. The movie includes many digital effects shots, many of them on the showy side, but they are used well. Chow's background in martial arts action and physical comedy serves him well. He's got experience with how actors interact with their environments physically, and that comes in handy even when what they're interacting with isn't actually present or is being digitally augmented. It also doesn't hurt that he's got some high-end help in the fight scenes where much of the effects work occurs: The action is choreographed and directed by Yuen Woo-ping and Sammo Hung.

It's not just the great comedic action that sells the movie, though. A lot of action-movie parodies make their action scenes into strings of sight gags and mockings of the conventions - how many lame bullet-time spoofs have there been where there's no actual joke there, just the same scene staged with a different character - but as funny as the action scenes in Kung Fu Hustle are, there's also something at stake in them. Indeed, there's a scene in the middle of the film as a pair of assassins quietly go about their business that mostly eschews laughs for suspense, and is eerily effective. Similarly, the final big battle is big and exciting, and feels like a real fight despite the larger-than-life action, but it's filled with little notes which make the audience laugh, hard, even as they might creep forward in their seats.

The story is pretty straightforward - the Axe Gang has taken over the entire town except Pig Sty Alley, which isn't exactly worth the effort. But when scoundrel Sing (Chow) goes to that slum tries to pass himself and a friend off as Axe Gang leaders, that brings the real Axe Gang in - not realizing that three kung fu masters make Pig Sty Alley their home. Humiliated, the gang's leader (Kwok Kuen Chan) calls in a series of assassins, culminating in the disheveled-but-indestructible Beast (Siu Lung Leung).

There is an element of parody in this movie, although if Chow is lampooning specific movies, I'm not sure which ones they are. Many characters aren't given names, simply described by their function ("sidekick") or position ("landlady"); heck, "Sing" is Chow's given name. The locations look like movie sets as opposed to real places - they're laid out to give fighters room rather than as useful public spaces. Similarly, the inside of the Axe Gang's casinos are rather clean and modern-looking for the 1920s time period. But that's OK; the audience is familiar with these tropes, and it's easier to laugh at general ideas than specific references.

The character-based comedy works well, too. Sing is a scoundrel, but a rather cowardly and not very effective one. We wants to join the Axe Gang because he figures good guys don't get the girls or the money. But he's not too bright, either, and sort of blunders through the plot, finally getting a chance with the Axe Gang because he's deemed expendable. He banters well with his sidekick, but isn't nearly as funny when he's revealed to be "the one" late in the movie. Chosen ones just aren't funny when they act like chosen ones. However, he does surround himself with memorable and hilarious supporting characters, from Kwok's theatrical Brother Sum (he has his gang dancing!) to Qiu Yuen's tightwad Landlady (who seems to be at least part roadrunner). The Beast is simply Not Cool, a dirty-looking old man, which is a funny contrast to his fighting ability.

Kung Fu Hustle is just a blast, and I think it's in part because it wasn't made for American audiences. That, in itself, is a great technological accomplishment; it wasn't too long ago that a production this elaborate would have been too expensive for Hong Kong to support. It's got more effects than Shaolin Soccer by an order of magnitude, but doesn't have to be compromised in order to achieve a PG-13 rating in the US. As a result, it can be gleefully off-color, or mix blood in with its cartoon violence. It's not just that Columbia Tri-Star would get uncomfortable with that on this side of the Pacific; it's that Chow can make his movie without worrying what some other group of people finds funny or offensive, while still creating whatever pops into his mind.

Of course, the next FX-oriented comedy out of Hong Kong (aside from the just-announced sequel) will probably wind up being awful, because someone less talented than Chow is in charge. But until then, this movie is fun and funny, and it's not in spite of being filled with special effects.

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originally posted: 05/23/05 08:20:54
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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.

User Comments

4/02/13 Atari TwentySixHundred Flaxman, totally missed the mark. This film is beautiful, fun, and exciting! 5 stars
1/05/10 stephan chow fan forever ok.. if you want to get the full effects of the movie, then learn chinese (puns and stuff) 5 stars
12/23/09 Cody This movie is one of the best I've ever seen and I am waiting for the 2010 sequel 5 stars
8/30/08 Shaun Wallner The Action was Amazing! 5 stars
3/13/08 ako excellent film by Chow with indepth understanding of the 3 level of Kung Fu. 5 stars
6/06/07 tracey chambers great movie. funny as hell. 5 stars
5/06/07 fools♫gold Die?! In this racket? 5 stars
4/18/07 David Pollastrini pretty silly! 2 stars
2/07/07 AJ Muller Drops laughs and ass-whuppins our way in old school WB style. Awesome. 4 stars
1/09/07 Drew Galletti As a kung-fu nerd, a well done, humorous homage to the genre 5 stars
12/08/06 UGB Definately worth a look - I thought it pretty funny 4 stars
7/06/06 drydock54321 just like a live action cartoon. Love that lion roar. 5 stars
5/05/06 Jason Terrible, unfunny movie. I'd rather watch a Tony Jaa movie 1 stars
3/31/06 Steb A kung fu comedy! What more could you ask for? 5 stars
2/12/06 brewt hustle me good 4 stars
1/01/06 metalhead Kung Fu Hustle is Freakin Sweet! One of the greatest movies ever made. 5 stars
11/16/05 Adrian Unique in every aspect...and thats what makes it so damn good and fun to watch. 5 stars
10/14/05 eddiejohns Funny and action-packed. I liked this combo. 4 stars
10/14/05 Indrid Cold A cross between "Crouching Tiger" and "Kung Pao"; dumb but entertaining. 4 stars
9/24/05 Mark Radburn A Kick-Ass Asian movie, A must-see 5 stars
9/22/05 Fritz Kind of amusing, but not as funny as it thinks it is. 3 stars
9/17/05 millersxing riki tiki tembo no sa rembo chari bari ruchi pip peri pembo 5 stars
9/11/05 Rever_Bear-Trap This RATING says it all! 5 stars
9/11/05 Alex Robert Rodriguez died 5 stars
9/09/05 Phil M. Aficionado The more I think about it, the better I like it; stunningly chaotic and funny and lively 5 stars
9/02/05 Zack it pretty sweet 3 stars
9/02/05 JFK great asian comedy. 4 stars
8/29/05 Quigley doesn't deliver what it promises. the CG wasn't great and neither were the fight scenes. 3 stars
8/28/05 Tom Burns This movie was amazing. 5 stars
8/25/05 Kat Scrumtrilacent with a hint of stellar. 5 stars
8/23/05 Nick Great movie.Up there with Spiderman. 5 stars
8/15/05 John Kung Fu Hustle R1 DvD is edited. Blood has been taken out and a scene has been shortened 4 stars
8/15/05 Ebru Germeyan Not even a Cartoon movie could top this movie 5 stars
8/14/05 othree next level. solid story, cast, imagery, believable cheeziness 5 stars
8/13/05 Justin Kline Funnier Than Heck 4 stars
7/17/05 Kathy terPlugg Not as good as KUNG POW: ENTER THE FIST. 3 stars
7/05/05 jim even better than Revenge of the Sith 5 stars
6/25/05 Sean Poon It has more depth than it appears to be 5 stars
6/14/05 jameth burketh Absolutely hillarious-gets better with repeated viewing. A very clever film 5 stars
6/09/05 Gray It was fun 4 stars
6/07/05 captain craig the more I see it, the more I like it 5 stars
5/27/05 juli Matrix fights ripped off Hong Kong movies to begin with 5 stars
5/22/05 Cham Like watching a live-action violent cartoon. 4 stars
5/21/05 kemalx78 very funy when i watching this i amnt boring 5 stars
5/17/05 Shawn Borucki Excellent film, Stephen Chow tops "Shaolin Soccer" with mixing gangs and land ladies.. 5 stars
5/10/05 Morrigan Matrix Ripoffs? You sir are an idiot. 5 stars
5/09/05 Ka-Poon Chan Its a very good film, a different outlook from this genre of film making! 4 stars
5/05/05 Koitus Was the urination scene REALLY necessary??? Also, MANY scenes were "Matrix" rip-offs... 2 stars
5/03/05 michaelb14 "I did'nt know The Lion's Roar could be done with a speaker!" 5 stars
5/02/05 your worst goddamn nightmare Take a bit of Loony Toons and Jackie Chan and you've got this. Sounds terrible, BUT........ 5 stars
5/02/05 Dorothy Malm quite entertaining, a lot of fun 5 stars
4/30/05 Chris Stephens This is one cool movie 5 stars
4/29/05 Titus Way cool. 5 stars
4/28/05 Uncle Salty See it. Love it. 5 stars
4/28/05 Colleen Godlrick unique 5 stars
4/27/05 Jeff Anderson A high energy, hysterical & full-throttle BLAST! More fun than all 3 MATRIX films combined! 5 stars
4/27/05 Naka God, YES!!! 5 stars
4/26/05 Whatevr Oh, dizzamn! 5 stars
4/25/05 KingNeutron Fkg awesome, wacky, goofy, sometimes disturbing, and oddly... moving. See twice! 5 stars
4/24/05 jeff not as good as house of flying daggers but still funny and awsome 5 stars
4/23/05 jakob it rocked hard. 5 stars
4/20/05 jordan can you give kung fu hustle movie 0n dvd 2004 2 stars
4/19/05 Al Guy I love it! Watch out for the Hollywood "remake". 5 stars
4/14/05 Gray this movie was great fun! 5 stars
4/13/05 Junior LaRoche Great! Sony Classics know how to release films, unlike Miramax. 5 stars
4/13/05 visual A must-see!!!! 5 stars
4/12/05 Mr. Majestyk If you can't enjoy this movie, you need a blowjob. 5 stars
4/11/05 Dan Olson Good, but not Chow's best and not worth the acclaim 4 stars
4/10/05 Vince Not overly hilarious, but fun. 4 stars
4/09/05 mahn erfa 5 stars
4/08/05 Lina Correa everyone should borrow this from their friend with the large DVD collection 4 stars
4/02/05 kran must watch 5 stars
3/26/05 Greg Ursic Outstanding!! Never have I seen that many reviewers mock fighting in a lobby. 5 stars
3/09/05 vu Awesome 5 stars
3/03/05 michael weber gwaaaaaaaaaa!!!! 3 stars
2/25/05 jandro Great and Side-Splitting funny, Chow sure knows how to tickle the funny bone 5 stars
2/12/05 anthony hilarious and energetic fun! but the script couldve used more work 4 stars
2/07/05 Zach a must-watch! 5 stars
1/30/05 Ery amazingly beautiful and funny 5 stars
1/29/05 buddy garrett same old formula 2 stars
1/29/05 keith james CHOW (GETS) DOWN! 4 stars
1/13/05 Maya gut-busting funny, way cool fight scenes, and unpredictable. i'm now a huge fan. 5 stars
1/12/05 Josh Funniest film i've seen for ages - very stylish too 5 stars
1/11/05 Miles Bader Hits every note just right, silly and affectionate 5 stars
1/09/05 Francis Ayock Stephen Chow homage to the Cantonese Martial Arts films of the last few decades. 5 stars
1/01/05 Dominique Incredibly hilarious - far better than Shaolin Soccer! 5 stars
1/01/05 alicia yeo shi ling absolutely funny! 4 stars
12/24/04 ArQ Chow did it again! 5 stars
9/21/04 Naka Hysterical!!! 5 stars
9/16/04 Pop very good film 4 stars
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  08-Apr-2005 (R)
  DVD: 09-Aug-2005



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