Review: Kung Fu Hustle (2005)

Kung Fu Hustle

Kung Fu Hustle

Rating



Director

Stephen Chow

Screenplay

Tsang Kan Cheong, Stephen Chow, Xin Huo, Chan Man Keung

Length

95 min.

Starring

Stephen Chow, Wah Yuen, Qiu Yuen, Kwok Kuen Chan, Siu Lung Leung, Dong Zhi Hua, Chiu Chi Ling, Xing Yu

MPAA Rating

R (For sequences of strong stylized action and violence)

Buy/Rent Movie

Soundtrack

Poster

Review

Legend tells of those who have learned the power of Kung Fu to perform extra-human feats. Kung Fu Hustle is about a slew of Kung Fu experts who’ve gone into hiding to lead normal lives.

Writer and director Stephen Chow (Shaolin Soccer ) also stars as the lead character Sing, an impressionable youth who desires nothing more than to become part of the city’s most notorious gang. Along with his sidekick (Chi Chung Lam), Sing explores the dark side as he tries to pass the tests of the Axe Gang.

Meanwhile the Axe Gang has sufficiently isolated itself as the only organized crime syndicate in the city. Their control comes from the gruesome way they punish those who oppose them, as is witnessed in a gory opening sequence where several opponents are brutally killed. There is only one place they hold no sway. It’s a small apartment building run by a loud Landlady (Qiu Yuen) and her lecherous husband (Wah Yuen).

Sing and his companion attempt to get a free haircut out of the people of this apartment complex and fail utterly to achieve their goal. Attempting to flee with their lives, one of the Axe Gang’s members is killed. The turf war begins and it’s up to three Kung Fu experts living in the apartments to save the day.

Kung Fu Hustle is predominantly a comedy. It has a great deal of respect for the martial arts films of the seventies, playing off of them with delight. As much homage as it is comedy, the physics-defying feats of these magical heroes leave as much room for spectacle as they do for laughs.

It’s easy to admire Chow’s efforts; however, his mind-numbing disregard for any modicum of realism, the aberrant use of imagery and his egregious treatment of the homosexual (both of those featured are limp-wristed and effeminate, despite one of them being a rather kick-ass kung fu artist in his own right) conspire to bring the film down.

The visual effects are rudimentary and translucent. They are painfully obvious to even the most casual filmgoer and add a further element of unreality. Had more money, time and effort been put into the effects, much of the film’s detractions would be removed and we’d be left with a movie solely burdened with plot contrivances and unsympathetic characters.

The segment of Kung Fu Hustle’s audience that is most likely to be disappointed are those who have greatly respected the efforts of the Asian community to provide accessible tales that appeal to a “Western” sensibility while avoiding the pitfalls of cliché. Films like Hero and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon have elevated the art form, crossing over to the American public with much success. Hustle attempts to bring a different style to the forefront of popular cinema but fails to be more than a shoddy mischaracterization of the Asian culture.

Review Written

June 14, 2005

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