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Kung Fu Hustle: Frank's Take

01/05/2005. Contributed by Frank Ochieng

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Filmmaker Stephen Chow spared no creative expenses when overseeing his latest dizzying and dazzling musical action-comedy hit Kung Fu Hustle, says Frank. After exhilarating audiences with his international hit Shaolin Soccer, the Asian moviemaker bounces back with an inspired romp that ricochets more convincingly than an errant bullet piercing a nearby rocky surface.

1 hour 35 minutes.Sony Pictures (2005). Starring: Stephen Chow, Kwok Kuen Chan, Xiaogang Feng, Dong Zhi Hua, Feng Xiao Gang, Lam Tze Chung, Siu Lung Leung, Hsiao Liang, Chiu Chi Ling. Directed by: Stephen Chow.

Joyfully chaotic and impishly outrageous, Kung Fu Hustle has a schizophrenic imagination in the way it insists on presenting its wacky charm. Clearly, this is one of the best frenetic farces to come along in quite some time.

Chow’s wayward Depression-era gangster chopsocky piece is a devilishly entertaining entry into colorful action-oriented Chinese cinema. As the film’s writer-director-star, Chow skillfully assembles a swaggering juggernaut featuring Yuen Wo Ping’s high-flying choreography mixed in with a touching dosage of nostalgia. The distinctive characteristics of an eye-popping martial arts spectacle are present and accounted for: flashy fast-paced fight scenes, stylish and busy-looking settings, a self-deprecating wit, and the standby concept of redemption.

With the manic mentality of a mindless Saturday morning cartoon, Kung Fu Hustle is intentionally broad in its mayhem thus establishing an identity that’s unique within the clashing wuxia flick genre.

The premise involves the notorious bunch known as the Axe Gang during the heyday of 1940’s China. They control all the action in the city but resist harassing the community’s poverty-stricken residents. Destitute drifter Sing (Chow) and his roly-poly sidekick (Lam Tze Chung) want to benefit from the clout that the Axe Gang carved out methodically for their prized reputation.

So the tandem pose as Axe Gang members in order to extort money from a grungy venue known as Pig Sty Alley. Deep down, Sing really relishes the thought of becoming an Axe head-banger as it represents the power and prestige his penniless person seriously lacks.

Pig Sty Alley is a rundown apartment complex situated in the middle of hopelessness. Indifferent married property owners (Yuen Wah and Yuen Qui) oversee their rotted investment without much interest at all. One can see why Sing and his buddy feel the need to exploit this place and the poor people that existence here so listlessly. But Sing will soon find out that his deception backfires (real Axe associates wouldn’t think twice by being caught in the vicinity of this surrounding).

And to top it off, the tricky twosome realize that the Pig Sty Alley denizens aren’t as helpless or hapless as they appeared to be. Soon, Sing inadvertently stirs up a bee’s nest of trouble as a revolt takes place. Although puzzled by the Pig Sty Alley’s uprising, a “legitimate” Axe handler (Kwok Kuen Chan) has no choice but to call out his reinforcements to defend his motley crew’s honor against this uppity opponent they once vowed to leave alone.

There’s no denying the motivational muster behind Chow’s insanely frivolous odyssey. Kung Fu Hustle incorporates its hedonistic hilarity with a hearty verve that’s refreshingly over-the-top. The endless introduction of gravity-defying gags and the complimenting of its social commentary on the stark conditioning of Golden Age class warfare China are profoundly resourceful. Chow’s nutty narrative can be rather exhausting at times and the meandering plot looses its focus on occasion. But for the most part, this kinetic-kicking exposition resonates in its tireless goofiness.

The rollicking artistry pertaining to Kung Fu Hustle is something to erratically absorb with noted appreciation. It’s an elaborate cinematic experience that playfully pounds you over the head with its audaciously inventive flourishes of calculating comedy. The performances are robust in reference to its heavy-handed comic timing. Plus, the absurdity of the film’s convictions manages to spotlight the ethical ambivalence of Chow’s Sing as an anti-hero who’s as aimless as he is charismatic in his quest for emotional completeness.

In short, Chow’s serving of calisthenics-driven kung fu masters and the manufactured mockery that ensues truly fits the bill as a random giddy and grand-standing escapist laugher for the ages.

Frank Ochieng

(c) Frank Ochieng 2005

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