After Stephen Chow’s hilarious “Shaolin Soccer”, he comes back with yet another very funny action-comedy that is part Chuck Jones, part Bruce Lee. The marriage of tense, engrossing martial arts action, and off the wall screwball antics that would make Tex Avery gleam with pride, is a task that wouldn’t be an easy one by any means, but director Stephen Chow balances the two accordingly, and as the climax becomes more action than comedy, there is still a sense of the goofy to it, a goofiness that some will love for its sheer originality, and some won’t for that same fact. Chow manages to create some of the most screwy comedy I’ve seen in a long time, while he manages to spoof much of his influences such as “The Shining” and “Thriller” as do all the directors whom have been impacted by pop culture.
Chow, in all of his comedic glory, recognizes comedy as observing the mundane, the ugly, and not about pretty people. In “Shaolin Soccer”, the characters were hard to look at, and he makes no exception about it with “Kung Fu Hustle”. The heroes here are not pretty but they’re deadly, they’re toothless, but they’re ruthless. Meanwhile, our heroes are the less than beautiful, the villains, which are presented in the properly black and white tone, are doused with slicked back hair, tweed suits, and are dappered up to properly extinguish of their innocents. Chow, obviously influenced by animation, derives much of the humor from old cartoons of my childhood. Flower pots fall on heads splitting in half as the dirt remains in a solid clump ala “Tom and Jerry”, the wicked landlady chases our hero Sing across the country in a motor revved chase on foot ala “Looney Tunes”, not to mention there are your ubiquitous goofy villains, outtakes and gags, and the hot woman who shakes her rump from side to side with a mighty bump of a drum.
During this bombardment of clever gags, we’re also given some genuine comedy that is succeeded by the actors’ brutal comedic timing that made me break out in to fits of uncontrollable laughter. Many of the comic scenes are so priceless it’s something that should be watched instead of explained because it’s just too good to put in to words. It’s the classic heroes vs. villains story on display as the groovy hip Axe Gang of millions are running 1940’s China (whom gather around their victims very similar to the style of “Gangs of New York”) and decide to pay a visit to the only village not under their control, the village of “Pig Sty”. The Axe Gangsters have a particular liking for axes as their primary weapon, and love to dance with them, but be not fooled, they’re extremely deadly when led by their menacing boss Brother Sum played by Kwok Kuen Chan who gives off a very menacing gleam and madness that brings about a hint of Gary Oldman. His grimy teeth are only the tip of the iceberg as he takes such pleasure in axing his victims he can’t help but do a little dance beforehand with axe in tow.
Problem is, the villagers of “Pig Sty” are more powerful than they look, and after a very much failed attempt to kick their butts and display order, they seek out the third master (two of whom remain unknown, and properly tore them a new on), the powerful Mr. Beast. Meanwhile, we’re given a truly odd variety of colorful characters from the killing musicians who waste their victims with the deadly sound waves of their instruments, the tailor with steel bracelets, and, of course, the dictatorial evil Landlady who rules her ghetto with large curlers, a mumu, and a cigarette always attached to her mouth, but packs a real deadly howl. Qiu Yuen steals every scene she’s in, becoming the best character of the film as she displays a knack for twisted comedy. Chow really knows how to give the audience a good time while never depleting our brain cells. The scenery is colorful, the film is always a lot of fun, and the characters stay grounded down in reality with the same homely appearance we see with everyone else.
The most powerful of kung fu masters in the film wear clothing that looks worn in from a sale at K-Mart, clothing status worthy of a tourist suburban couple from the northwest, and cheap blue sandals, but they kick major ass, as does this great martial art comedy. The climactic last battle was surprisingly disappointing, as the film leads up constantly to the fight with the third master, and proves to be incredibly exhausting with much outrageous special effects that become more jaunting than exciting, and we’re also subjected to some really lackluster battles, and a very abrupt ending that really didn’t sell the story’s end for me and really failed with its bombardment of special effects after special effects that it just ultimately lost what it was trying to accomplish. In spite of going on too long, Chow gives yet another very funny action comedy that spoofs the genre while never subjecting the audience to mind-depleting gags and humor. “Kung Fu Hustle” is a smart and very funny action comedy that will really knock your socks off.