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Kung Fu Hustle

Hong Kong (2004), 95 minutes
Starring: Stephen Chow, Wah Yuen, and Qiu Yuen
Reviewer: Val Frost
Genre: Comedy
Rating: 4.5
Interesting mix of comedy and action, Kung Fu Hustle involves the vicious yet suave “Axe Gang,” the residents of Pig Sty Alley, and two gangster wannabe’s, (Chow and Chi Chung Lam). The Axe Gang has no reason to threaten the inhabitants of Pig Sty Alley, but when Chow tries to join the gang, he inadvertently pits the two against each other and some of the Alley locals have more talents than meets the eye.The Landlord (Wah Yuen) and Landlady (Qui Yuen) are “masters” and have given up fighting for various reasons, but with the threat of the Gang upon them, they begin to unleash their powers.

The Gang decides to bring in its own secret weapon in the form of “The Beast,” a seemingly over-the-hill killer sitting, bored, in jail. Soon the three masters are locked in hand-to-hand combat and their only goal is kill each other. Then another master appears on the horizon and… well yeah, you get the basic plot here.
Oh, and it’s supposed to be funny, though I really didn’t laugh nearly as much as I did through Chow’s other work (my favorite: The God Of Cookery). A couple of parts were just too cartoonish for me to do anything more than smirk at, though in all fairness, I found many of the visuals more clever and playful than most of the intentional gags. For example, the Landlady is, for most of the movie, in a housedress, curlers and slippers, so the sight of her kicking some gangster ass is pretty comical. The same can be said for the visual in many of the fights (the fight in the casino toward the end has some pretty cool images, banal and Matrix-like at the same time).
And that leads us to the fights, which were my favorite element in the movie. As with Chow’s last film, Shaolin Soccer, computer FX are rampant here and while most of the time they add to the visual concept of the fight, other times they just get in the way. The fight choreography (by Woo-ping Yeun and Sammo Hung!!) is both fun and stunning and my eyes were glued to the screen for every battle. I actually found the film to be more of an action film than a comedy simply by the amount of dazzling and complicated fights sequences that permeate the film (The Matrix is parodied here, but never in a too-obvious way, and yet one of Hustle’s themes is closely linked to this still-landmark film.).Chow’s role is a relatively small, yet important one, and he adds his own variations on the themes of kindness, forgiveness and redemption at the end. And this small matter, more-or-less, made the film for me. It gave the characters and plot depth, and in this way, elevated the film beyond a silly comedy-action flick.

And I sorta dug the soundtrack (by Raymond Wong) too. Both traditional and over-the top, it added to the general feel of the movie. Some viewers might find it distracting, but I honestly found it lovely and captivating.In the end I have to say that I enjoyed Kung Fu Hustle more than I thought I would, and almost more against my better judgment. I didn’t laugh so much as smile, but the smile lasted long after I had left the theater.