Being a review of the movie Kung Fu Hustle
I hate to come across as an obvious cliché, but I just love Hong Kong action movies. I think most guys do, really. We're programmed for it as small children. While I wouldn't consider myself obsessive about the genré (unlike pretty much every other aspect of pop culture), I am fairly well versed in the Hong Kong action movie canon. It started with Bruce Lee, for certain, but it soon spread to Sonny Chiba, Chow Yun Fat, Yuen Biao, Sammo Hung, Jet Li, Jackie Chan, Li Gong, the list goes on for pages, and it's of special note that I will move heaven and earth to go see any film with Michelle Yeoh in it, no matter how badly it reeks. Hong Kong directors have and still are turning out some of the most innovative and sublimely directed action movies. Tsui Hark, John Woo, Wong Jing, King Hu, Yimou Zhang, and Ronny Yu are as good as and oftentimes better than directors like Renny Harlin, John Frankenheimer, John McTiernan and Walter Hill. (Anyone who's thinking, "Geez he left Michael Bay off the list," can leave now.)
That's why when some amazingly bright producer at Miramax (gotta love Bob and Harvey) decided it would be a grand idea to bring Stephen Chow's movie, Shaolin Soccer, to The United States a couple of years ago, I was all sorts of excited about it. So excited, in fact, that I ran right out and completely missed it. It showed here in Kalispell, MT for like a week... maybe. Fortunately it's now out on DVD, so I can catch myself up later. If it's anything like Kung Fu Hustle, it should be great.
Kung Fu Hustle is a revelation. One part Hong Kong action movie, one part Bugs Bunny/Roadrunner cartoon, it brings a refreshing sense of humor to a genré that's notorious for taking itself way too seriously. (Jackie Chan excepted, or course.) The special effects are better than most of what's currently coming out of Hollywood, and Stephen Chow uses every part of his amazingly complete director's kit to maximum effect.
The visuals in this movie are a head-spinning delight to the eyes. Each scene is packed with layers of visual cues and graphic in-jokes that make me think I'm missing something by not being able to read Cantonese. That's okay though, because what I do get is that this movie is a nuclear explosion of funny. Stephen Chow is a master of comic timing. He has taken the natural grace and beauty of his Wing Chun Kung Fu style and translated it into a slap-stick worthy of the best works of Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplain (or Daffy Duck, whichever you prefer).
The plot is simple; gangs take over town, townspeople fight back, gangs bring out ultimate bad guy, townspeople up the ante by dragging out, "The Chosen One." The characters are clichéd to the point of being icons, but that's the idea. Wah Yuen and Qui Yuen do a superb job of immersing themselves in their respective roles as unlikely martial arts masters. However, it's the on screen chemistry between Stephen Chow and his longtime compatriot Kwok Kuen Chan (they have this kind of Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez thing happening) that steals the show. The two are superb as master and snivelling toady, deftly switching roles by the movies end.
I can't recommend this movie enough. If you like martial arts flicks or even if you just like good cartoons, Kung Fu Hustle will delight and amaze you. Oh yeah, and you'll laugh your ass off, too.
Something that I forgot to touch on is how impressed I was with the wire work and the special effects in Kung Fu Hustle. It holds up easily in comparison to Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and The Matrix Trilogy. It's a nice change of pace to see these special effects put to use comedically.
The dissolution of Miramax will no doubt put a hold on bringing more Stephen Chow movies to The United States. Unfortunately, I have yet to see an interview with Bob and Harvey Weinstein that mentions this at all. I'll update everybody when I know more. In the meantime, go enjoy what we have. Go see the movie. The subtitles will not harm you. Go... Go Now! You must not resist.