Kung Fu Hustle
February 1, 2006
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.
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.
There is an audio commentary by Stephen Chow, actor Lam Tze Chung, Axe Gang advisor Tin Kai Man and actor Chan Kwok Kwan. If you’re reading the subtitles of this track it is near impossible to figure out who’s talking and so you just have to go along with it in the hopes that some relevant information will appear on screen. Judging by the laughter generated from their comments, these guys seem like good friends and clearly enjoy watching this movie. They go into detail about the filmmaking process in this informative and engaging track.
“TV Special – Behind the Scene of Kung Fu Hustle” is a 42 minute look at how this movie came together hosted by two of the film’s stars. Chow had always wanted to make a kung fu movie where a mugger becomes a superhero. He and the writers’ intention were to make a film about courage and that celebrated world peace. This is an entertaining and well-made featurette that is a step up from the usual fare that populates DVDs.
There are two deleted scenes that feature the residents of Pig Sty Alley trying to convince the two kung fu masters to save them and more footage of Sing’s initiation into the Axe Gang.
“Ric Meyers Interview with Stephen Chow” is a nice conversation between the two men. Chow briefly talks about his career and how he got started. He also talks about some of the cinematic influences on this movie as he comes across as a very smart and articulate fellow.
Also included is an “Outtakes and Bloopers” reel that is a very funny collection of blown lines.
There is also an impressive collection of 15 TV spots!
Finally, there is an “International Poster Exploration Gallery” that features all sorts of different designs adopting various styles and colour schemes.