As Scream did for horror flicks and Shawn of the Dead did for zombie pictures, Kung Fu Hustle does for chop sockey: both honor and spoof the genre that spawned it.
The infamous Axe Gang runs everything in Canton, China in the 1940s : the business, the crime, and the cops. When a young man named Sing (Stephen Chow) tries to pass himself off as a gangster in a poor district called “Pig Sty,” he inadvertently draws the Axe Gang into a vendetta against the entire community when it turns out to be populated with three Kung Fu masters living there in secret. As the war between factions escalates, anything goes and nothing is sacred as the mind of Stephen Chow (and some top notch CGI) runs wild into the film’s conclusion.
Writer/director/star Stephen Chow has done it again. Besides being a darling with the critics, Kung Fu Hustle surpassed his own 2001 release of Shaolin Soccer to become the highest-grossing Hong Kong-made movie in Hong Kong. To better understand exactly what this kind of movie this is, imagine a Saturday afternoon Kung Fu film merged with an ultra-violent Chuck Jones cartoon (Tom vs. Jerry type). More clever yet, Chow allows the audience to think whatever they want about the zany stuff so he can sneak up on them with the “mythical powers” bits that are a staple of the genre.
The script walks a tightrope between a serious backstreet-brawl epic and a Three Stooges film; the effect keeps the audience on its toes because you never know what’s coming next. One moment a gang is slaughtering rivals on the street, and the next they’re disco dancing in celebration. Just as soon as you think the story is completely destroyed, Chow yanks you back in with a new revelation and everything is off and running again. A film this eclectic and unpredictable shouldn’t work, but Chow manages to edit everything together and make it flow seamlessly to the very end.
Even The Matrix gets a few jeers, which no one should mind since the Hong Kong-invented genre is simply stealing it back from the Americans. Almost no one in the film is who they are suppose to be, and even the characters are left clueless as to their origins after the audience is let in. With all they plot, effects, fights, funny bits, and everything else going on at the same time, you’d think audiences would have a hard time keeping up, but the promise of more to come keeps everyone hooked.
(a three skull recommendation out of four)