Kung Fu Hustle (2004)

Untitled-1Ever thought about what would happen if you crossed kung fu with slapstick comedy? I bet you haven’t. Or maybe you have if you’ve seen many of Jackie Chan’s early movies. Doesn’t matter. Because here we have Kung Fu Hustle, a kung fu movie that has so many elements of slapstick that it can survive on its comedy alone. The sensational stunts and fighting sequences are just bonuses. Gorgeous bonuses.

Nothing that happens in this movie can be believed. In fact nothing that happens in any kung fu movie can truly be believed. But that’s okay, because no one in this movie believes anything they’re doing either. The characters set the tone, and the tone is preposterous. Take for example the chase scene between Sing and the landlady (Yuen Qiu). She is chasing after him for causing trouble in her sleepy little town, endearingly called Pig Sty Alley, and they’re running so fast that they reminded me of those speedy cartoon characters whose legs look like wheels when they run. And then, to avoid an oncoming truck, Sing leans sideways and runs under it, his legs still a whirlwind of indistinguishable speed. It’s so cartoony that many viewers might find it difficult to accept even as good comedy. But watch the payoff of this scene — it involves the landlady and a billboard — and you will laugh.

Sing is played by Stephen Chow, who also directs. He is a loser scumbag who wants more than anything to be a part of the infamous Axe Gang, a uniformed troupe of well-dressed zombie-like minions headed by Brother Sum (Danny Chan). He wants it so much that he pretends to be a member and tries to exert his authority on Pig Sty. He claims to know kung fu, but can barely stomach the punch of a humble farm lady carrying onions. To the Axe Gang, Pig Sty isn’t worth their time, but the trouble stirred up by Sing forces them to take revenge. And so begins a crazy quest for the Gang as they try, time after time, to defeat the citizens of Pig Sty, who turn out to be more than mere tailors and hawkers. In perhaps the movie’s best scene, a couple of Pig Sty martial artists do battle with a mystical harp-playing duo hired by the Axes. Invisible swords fly across the screen. Spears are thrown into the air and kicked into offence mode. The harpists sit on chairs that aren’t there and string soothing melodies while they conjure weapons of death. And then when the landlady gets fed up with all the ruckus, she screams everyone away. Beautiful, well-choreographed mayhem.

Chow has a natural eye for crazy comedy. He knows what the boundaries are and plays to their strengths. Sometimes he crosses the line, but it’s all in the name of good fun. He is not a martial artist by default, but with the help of convincing CGI, clever editing, and trick wires he manages to come off as a man who believes he has always been destined to become a kung fu master. The greatest joke about this idea is that he knows all he knows about kung fu because he read a useless manual sold to him by a con artist when he was just a kid. He practiced for days and studied the manual religiously. When he finally put his training to the test at the neighbourhood playground, he should’ve brought along a bottle of shampoo.

And then there’s the character of The Beast (Bruce Leung), a homeless looking balding man who seems to have crawled out of a cardboard box. Don’t mess with him though. You wouldn’t want to get on his froggy side — that’s a recipe for disaster. After the failure of the harpists, he is hired by the Axes, and his unbelievable skills set the stage for the movie’s third act, a kung fu extravaganza that has elements of Kill Bill and The Matrix Reloaded. Bodies fly everywhere, and a building gets a hand in its early renovation (geddit?). Of course, this scene is completely implausible, but boy is it fun. And so is the rest of the movie. From start to finish Chow delivers a bundle of laughs, and in between he treats us to kung fu of the highest quality.

Best Moment | I love it all.

Worst Moment | Nope.

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