Tuesday, 7 August 2007
KUNG FU HUSTLE
Kung Fu Hustle (2004) dir. Stephen Chow
Starring: Stephen Chow, Wah Yuen, Yuen Qiu, Chan Kwok Kuen, Bruce Leung
New to DVD is a cool “Axe-Kicking” edition of Stephen Chow’s mind-blowing kung-fu extravaganza. It’s hard to describe “Kung Fu Hustle”, but as it says on the DVD cover, Entertainment Weekly sums it up best, “Kill Bill meets the Looney Toons”. It’s an appropriate description as the film combines traditional Chinese Kung Fu with the extreme cartoonish violence of a Road Runner episode. It’s highly entertaining stuff, and something that could only have been made outside of North America.
In 1930’s Shanghai the city is run by a particularly brutal gang called the Axe Gang – named after their preferred brand of weaponry. The opening scene shows the gang leader, while dancing to some swing music, brutally hacking to death a rival gang. Our protagonist, Sing and his tagalong, Bone, desperately wants to be part of the gang. He decides to impress the gang leaders by terrorizing a group of lowly rural tenement residents outside of town. The tenement landlords prove to be worthy opponents though, and the fracas sets off a brutal war between the two groups – the tenement landlords vs. the Axe Gang.
Sing’s desire to be part of the gang stems from an incident in childhood when he attempted to save a young deaf girl from being mugged. He realizes that the good guys never win and decides to become part of the gang to gain acceptance. But when he reencounters the girl from his past his outlook changes and he strives to fight the evils of the Axe Gang.
Like traditional Kung Fu films of the 60’s and 70’s each fighter has a distinct and particular style of fighting (ie. crane, dragon and snake styles). Chow takes these elements to the extreme with over-the-top manoeuvres like the Lion’s Roar – a bellowing howl that can blow the shirt off a man’s back, or Sing’s Buddhist Palm, which produces enough force to form a crater imprint of his hand in the ground. It’s all in good fun, and much of the humour comes from the creative ways to kill a person. The maimings produced from the magical knives of the harpists is particularly gruesome and enjoyable.
The character element of the story is also over-the-top. Sing’s redemption from the humiliation suffered as a child is classical storytelling, yet Chow exaggerates the dramatic beats as much as his violence. When Sing meets the deaf girl again for the first time, the girl dramatically reveals the lollipop she kept all those years as a symbol of his heroism. Sing shatters this moment, literally, when he disregards her and smashes her lollipop to pieces against a wall.
The legendary Yuen Woo Ping is the fight choreographer on this one and his work, as always, is exceptional. He uses CG effects, wire work and good old fashioned fighting skills to craft some masterful sequences. Sing’s dramatic fight at the end when he takes on a hundred gang members is the highlight for me as well the landlords' fight against the unassuming yet powerful, flip-flop-wearing ‘Beast.’
You don’t have to be a kung-fu fan to enjoy the film, in fact the self parody humour adds to the accessibility. Often Chinese martial arts films take themselves too seriously resulting in painfully overacted melodrama in between the fights. You don’t have to fast forward through this film; it’s funny and enjoyable all the way through. Even my wife liked it, which is the truest test of its accessibility. Enjoy.
Buy it here: Kung Fu Hustle (Axe-Kickin' Edition)