Kung Fu Hustle: Axe-Kickin’ Edition
July 27, 2007
Fresh from the worldwide triumph of Shaolin Soccer (2001), Stephen Chow surpassed its critical and commercial success with Kung Fu Hustle (2004). He took the winning formula he perfected with his previous film and elevated it to a more ambitious scale. He also wisely decided to have Sony distribute his movie in North America instead of Miramax who notoriously bungled the release of Soccer. The results were a modest success because, unlike Miramax, Sony knew how to market Chow’s movie. However, they also know how to punish fans of this film by releasing another edition on DVD with extra material that wasn’t included on the previous version. Is this new one really worth double-dipping?
Kung Fu Hustle is set in a hyper-real world that mixes 1920’s era gangsters right out of The Untouchables (1987) with a setting lifted right out of the Gangs of New York (2002). Chow and his crew have created a fantasy world like Streets of Fire (1984) where gangs rule the city and the scared citizenry live in a slum known as Pig Sty Alley. The Axe Gang, led by Brother Sum (Kwan), runs things through violent reinforcement.
A mysterious stranger named Sing (Chow) enters the slums like the Man with No Name straight out of a Sergio Leone spaghetti western. He and his partner are scam artists and they proceed to try (unsuccessfully as it turns out) to con a barber out of his money. Sing ends up being slapped around by the guy’s mother. They are Axe Gang wannabes and hope to join but in order to do so they have to kill someone. Of course, they are inept bunglers incapable of such a simple task. When deadly, hired assassins defeat the citizens’ three champions, Sing and his partner in crime have to stop trying to be bad guys and save the innocent people of the slums.
Everyone in the cast plays their roles broadly, like exaggerated caricatures right out of Vaudeville. This approach compliments the film’s tone that heightens everything to outrageous levels. For example, when a bunch of the Axe Gang enters Pig Sty Alley, clouds literally move in with them, foreshadowing the trouble to come. As he did with Shaolin Soccer, Chow uses CGI in very clever ways to express his ideas visually. The action sequences play out like live action Looney Tunes cartoons as he playfully pokes fun at over-the-top, pretentious action spectacles like The Matrix: Reloaded (2003). Kung Fu Hustle is bursting at the seams with one hilarious visual gag after another. In one scene, Sing is chased by a grumpy, bossy peasant woman and they chase each other through the countryside like Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner. Chow understands that the enjoyment in watching his movies is reveling in the visual spectacle of them. His movie has the visual inventiveness of ten movies.
Kung Fu Hustle is a movie about other movies. It playfully quotes from such diverse movies as Spider-Man (2002) and The Untouchables. One of the pleasures of watching this movie is to see what film it references next. Meanwhile, Kung Fu Hustle continues to top itself with one breathtaking action sequence after another, each one building up to the penultimate showdown. Chow’s movie is so eager to please, such an unabashed celebration of movies that it makes the ones that come out of Hollywood every year look boring and outdated in comparison.
If you own the previous edition you might want to hold onto it. Gone is the audio commentary by Stephen Chow, actor Lam Tze Chung, Axe Gang advisor Tin Kai Man and actor Chan Kwok Kwan. Ditto, the “TV Special – Behind the Scene of Kung Fu Hustle,” the two deleted scenes, an “Outtakes and Bloopers” reel, 15 TV spots and an “International Poster Exploration Gallery.”
For some reason, the “Ric Meyers Interview with Stephen Chow” has been carried over.
So, what’s new? There is a very brief, “Comedy Central Interview with Stephen Chow” where he’s asked two questions.
Also included is “Comedy Central Bloopers and Outtakes” which is also a brief collection of goofs from his promotional spots that he did for the channel.
The first substantial extra is “Organized Chaos: Yuen Wo Ping and the Fight Choreography of Kung Fu Hustle” which examines the challenge of recreated kung fu sequences from the 1940s and 1950s and modernizing them. It allowed the legendary Yuen Wo Ping to choreograph traditional forms of martial arts which he enjoyed.
“Bringing Down the House: the Production Design of Kung Fu Hustle” examines the look of the movie and how certain sets were designed. The filmmakers wanted to recreate a specific historical period and make it look as authentic as possible.
“Dressed to Kill: the Costume Design of Kung Fu Hustle” takes a look at how the clothes that the main characters wore reflected their distinctive personalities.
Finally, there is a “Storyboard Comparison” that shows specific shots from the movie with their corresponding storyboard.