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FilmsAsia: Asian film reviews
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   Kung Fu Hustle  


Kung Fu Hustle

Reviewed by 1. Ying Wuen 2. Ambient Noise 3. Dave Chua 4. Soh Yun-Huei

Director: Stephen Chow
Writing Credits: Cheong Tsang Kan, Stephen Chow, Huo Xin, Keung Chan Man
Cast: Chung Lam Chi, Stephen Chow, Feng Xiaogang, Hua Dong Zhi, Kwan Chan Kwok
Genre: Comedy action
Country: Hong Kong
Language: Cantonese
Year Released: 2004
Runtime: 95 min

1. Review by Ying Wuen
Rating: **** (out of four stars)

I am giving this movie a thumbs-up four stars. It is better than I expected!

As most people should know by now, I am not a particular fan of crazy comedies like these (especially some Hong Kong films). I like comedies but it is indeed difficult to find good comedies nowadays. How many good comedians / comic actors can you find these days? Jokes must not be trashy and stupid, but must be funny enough to be carried off by actors and ignite laughter in theaters. Tough job.

To that, Stephen Chow is classic in his own right. For those who can remember his other classic films, such as Fight back to School, Kung Fu Hustle marks his return as pretty much the King of Comedies. I have to admire his creativity and well-choreography of jokes that gave the right punches at the right times in the movie.

Several things made the film thoroughly nonsensically enjoyable. For one, this is the first time that he (Chow) is not the lead actor. In fact, there is no one lead actors and many of them are already veterans, which make them a joy to watch. Special mention to Yuen Wah and Yuen Qiu, who gave much life and karate chops to their roles as landlord and landlady. Expect classic humour from Stephen Chow.

Cinematic effects were great. Kung Fu scenes were very well shot. Smooth and awesome moves. In comparison to House of Flying Daggers and even Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, this movie makes a wonderful impact about Chinese martial arts, especially when they were played out in Matrix-style slow-mo.

One big bonus of the film is the spoofs of other hit movies of current fame. It was fun to try and guess the movie they were spoofing. Those I can think of include: The Matrix (of course), Lord of the Rings and Spider-man 2. Classic. Will not let you in on where the spoofs came along, but you can't miss them. The thing about the spoofs is that they were used so aptly that you can't fault them but submit in defeat to the hilarious outcome.

Verdict: Great movie to catch during this holiday season. No-brainer (except the parts where you have to work your brains a little to figure which movie they were spoofing) entertainment. Another classic hit after Shaolin Soccer from Stephen Chow. In fact, I think it's better than Shaolin Soccer. Do not expect a fantastic plot, but neither is it a comedy without substance. I hope it will chop its way to Hollywood soon. (and show them that Chinese movies are not always about suave Chinese martial arts only)


2. Review by Ambient Noise

Well, I hate to be the lone contrarian voice once again but I really disliked Kung Fu Hustle. I didn't find it entertaining, I didn't find it funny; in fact, it pretty much sucked for me.

This stems chiefly from the fact that it had nothing new or fresh to offer. The fighting styles were all done before and Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) didn't make them any better. Not only was the film a rehash (or compilation, if you prefer) of material from other kungfu movies but even the CGI effects were rehashed from Shaolin Soccer.

Granted, the premise of Shaolin Soccer isn't exactly novel - Yuen Biao combined soccer and kungfu acrobatics before in The Champions (1983). But Chow's execution of the former film elevated the material and made it iconic. The film's finale evoking the ideal of a kungfu-infused world was inspiring beyond measure.

Nothing remotely resembling that presented itself in Hustle.

Warning: Major Spoilers below:

To begin with, I wished that the three masters (well, two veterans and a young guy) of Pigsty Alley were given more space to showcase their skills. As it were, their fight scenes were too messy and too artificial to generate that, "Holy shit, old guys can still kick ass!" type of feeling. I'm reminded of when Yuen Woo-Ping brought Kwan Tak Hing out of retirement to reprise his record-making Wong Fei-Hung role in The Magnificent Butcher. In his first scene in the movie, Yuen had him doing three-finger push ups. And this guy was 74 years old at that time!

I wished there were more variety and stylisation in the fight scenes. Being a guy who watches fight scenes on home video stepwise ad infinitum, I found my eyes repeatedly glazing over during the fights in the movie. Not a single fight scene held any interest for me. That Achilles vs Hector smackdown in Troy was more creatively staged than anything in Hustle. And I think Chow squandered a good opportunity to create something unique: Upon his, umm, metamorphosis, he stepped out to confront the amassed baddies. His first few moves went something like this: half-step backwards to bridge the gap, a step forward and block, and then moving in with the leading foot into a knee-in, heel-out position and executing a shoulder thrust. These are fundamental Wing Chun stances! For a moment there, I sat bolt upright, eagerly anticipating if Chow was going to use Wing Chun against such a vast number of opponents. I've never seen it done before and I couldn't imagine how he could pull it off. Alas, he didn't.

I also wished that the film had something more to say because if it did, I didn't catch it. In the final scene of Shaolin Soccer, we see Taijiquan, an internal form, triumphing over Shaolin, an external one. That stylised sequence expresses succintly three basic principles of Taiji: beng (rebound), lu (flow) and an (push). In the context of the film, perhaps Chow used the application of Taiji to refute that Shaolin aphorism (all martial arts under heaven hail from Shaolin) as mere hyperbole. In Hustle, Chow trumped the Beast with a Buddha Palm strike. I don't know of any significance other than it is often portrayed in kungfu comics as the ultimate strike. Also, in Eastern (Chinese, Korean, Japanese) martial arts, the palm is regarded as superior to the fist, for myriad reasons. I think it's too much of a stretch to think that Chow in any way alludes to the Futt Sao (Buddha Palm) style of Wing Chun.

Finally, for a film whose Chinese title is simply, 'Kung Fu' I wish that the film was more kungfu than wuxia. I think it presumptuous for Chow to name his film Kung Fu when it expresses no fundamental principle or philosophy of kungfu nor does it comment upon the kungfu genre in film. It's a hustle, all right.

Some other references in Hustle: The magic lyre was the MacGuffin in Deadful (sic) Melody, which should really be titled Six-Fingered Lyre Demon and it shoots multi-coloured energy bolts of yore. Hatchet Gangs were also present in Drunken Master II and Millionaires' Express. And of course, the pole fighter's style was the title of this movie. The coolie character kicks exactly like Hung Yan Yan and there were times when I thought Hung doubled for him.


3. Review by Dave Chua

One of last year's most anticipated films was Stephen Chow's much-awaited Kung Fu Hustle. The film had received great reviews and after a lukewarm response to Chow's previous film Shaolin Soccer, he would go all out in his latest flick. Well, he's succeeded. The film lacks the momentum of Shaolin Soccer, but it pulls out all the stops for this Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) martial arts flick, as Chow drags out stars of martial movies from the past to make what is a homage to a multitude of movies and celebrates Kung Fu movies of the past.

Chow plays Sing, who impersonates a member of the Axe gang to swindle the residents of a slum run by a dictatorial landlady. However, he arouses the attention of the real Axe gang and soon they're on his heels. What initially appears to be a retelling of Shaolin Soccer, where a bunch of martial art masters gang up to beat up the bad guys, however, suddenly takes a number of twists and turns as unexpected allies and enemies turn up. Fortunately, the plot isn't overwrought, as the stunning fighting sequences take center stage. The stunts and CGI are eye-popping, and played with confidence and brashness. There are a mite too many spoofs (particularly of some Western movies, including The Shining and Spider-Man 2, and even one from Band of Outsiders), but it's one of the most fun movies you're likely to see at theaters last year or this. Will it win over Western audiences? Marketed properly, there's no doubt it should after the box-office success of Hero and House of Flying Daggers.

Chow is overshadowed by the actress who plays the feisty Landlady, Yuen Qiu, a well-known stunt woman in Hong Kong's film industry who had a bit role in The Man with the Golden Gun. She joined the film at Chow's request, after not acting for 28 years.

The film is breaking box-office records, scoring 50 Million Yuan (US$6+ million) in China over the opening weekend, and doing superbly in HK, Singapore, Taiwan and Malaysia. There's already talk of a sequel being planned, with the makers of Kung Fu Hustle going all over China to look for talent, so it looks like there'll be more hustling in the near future.


4. Review by Soh Yun-Huei
Rating: ***½ (out of four stars)

It’s been quite a long wait, but Stephen Chow has finally returned to the cinema with his latest film, Kung Fu Hustle, and what a kicker this movie is. Although not as outright hilarious as Shaolin Soccer (way back in 2001), Kung Fu Hustle confirms that Stephen Chow has a career behind the camera as well. It’s a deft mix of traditional martial arts films, Chow’s unique brand of humor, some rather nifty CGI, a very effective soundtrack, and a human touch that raises the film a notch above simple mindless slapstick. This is also a rarer Stephen Chow movie, because even though he’s ostensibly the lead of the film, for almost half the movie the attention is not on him – surely a sign of a maturing Chow, and perhaps pointing to the possibility of him transitioning to the role of a director for good.

Kung Fu Hustle boasts an extremely simple storyline – set in China in the turbulent 40s, society is plagued by the presence of various triads, none more fearsome than the Axe Gang. Sing (Stephen Chow), a two-bit gangster, attempts to extort money from the residents of a crowded apartment building known as Pig Sty Alley in the name of the Axe Gang, only to find that his actions attract the real Axe Gang to enter the fray. The normally sedate Pig Sty Alley is thrown headfirst into a conflict with the triad, but some of the residents are not what they seem to be. As legendary kung fu masters are gradually uncovered, a battle for life and death begins – and little does Sing know that he will become a pivotal part of this showdown.

Kung Fu Hustle, oddly, is both a lampoon of and a loving tribute to the kung fu movies of yesteryear. Casting a slew of past stars from Hong Kong cinema, Chow essentially takes the concept of a kung fu movie and takes it almost as far as it would go, without losing sight of its roots. He successfully applies kung fu conventions into a more modern background – it’s rare to see a "traditional" move like the Lion’s Roar being performed by a housewife, replete with hair rollers and a dowdy outfit, whilst clasping a cigarette between her lips. Certainly a strange combination, but in the context of the film it works very well.

This being a Stephen Chow film, there are plenty of gags and one-liners to laugh at, but in terms of hilarity Kung Fu Hustle does not rank as one of Chow’s funnier movies. It also has a little more of a human side to it, and there are some unexpectedly tender moments that separate this film from a typical "mo lei tou" movie. The much-mooted performance of newcomer Huang Shen Yi as Fong, Sing’s love interest, however, is pretty much a non-event in the end.

The action sequences, wonderfully choreographed by action master Yuen Wo-Ping, bring to mind scenes from the Matrix trilogy, also choreographed by Wo-Ping. This is accompanied by a high-energy traditional Chinese music score, which not only fits the action perfectly, but helps to build upon the atmosphere of the film. Also, although visual effects were employed in Shaolin Soccer, Kung Fu Hustle contains a lot more effects shots, and the good thing is that they are rather well incorporated into the film, and are of a relatively high quality even if they are not as "well-hidden" in the movie like the effects in most Hollywood blockbusters. Obviously a movie that was crafted with a lot of love and attention, Kung Fu Hustle is an impressive offering from the ever-diminishing HK movie industry, and definitely one of the best movies in Chow’s oeuvre to date.

Final Word: Immense fun and with more depth than the normal Stephen Chow movie, this film is a step in the right direction for the director/actor.