A review of “Kung Fu Hustle” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ****

Rating: R for bloodshed and violence

Run Time: 1 hour, 49 minutes

 

 

My notes are awash in glowing adjectives like snappy, infectious, and magical. But words don’t do justice to the deep river of imagination that flows through Stephen Chow’s indiscriminate fairy tale; a flashy homage to the ruthless kung fu films of yore.

Renaissance man Chow (Shaolin Soccer) writes, directs, and stars as two-bit thief Sing, an everyday nobody who aspires to be somebody in the guise of a vicious Axe Gang member, a Tarantino-esque band of marauders who groove on extreme maim and plunder. Good guys never win so Sing wants to be bad.

In the chaotic frenzy of pre-revolutionary Shanghai it’s every man for himself.  Sing makes the mistake of pulling a scam at the ramshackle housing project of Pig Sty Alley, unwittingly drawing the ire of the infamous Gang and establishing a vendetta between parrying camps.

The residents of Pig Sty are no ordinary slum-dwellers.  Despite their modest appearances the exploited Sty folk are extremely well-versed in the art of self-defense. Think chop-socky on steroids.

As the narrative pokes fun at an effortless Chi Flow and slapsticky Buddhist Palm Kung Fu a more somber side is revealed.  No-nonsense violence takes its toll in death and destruction while the lighter side of wrong-doing subtly masks gritty social satire.

Chow relies heavily on the influence of Shaw Brothers films of the 60s and 70s to craft this joyous and energetic dramedy.  Classic mob dance sequences segue into death-defying wire-fu tricks and the ultimate revenge showdown. Sing goes from zero to hero in dazzling kung fu style.  The incomparable choreography of martial arts legends Yuen Wo Ping (Kill Bill, The Matrix, etc.) and Sammo Hung lends swift and sophisticated exhilaration to virtually every frame.

Chow – a huge box office star in his native China – packs his labor of love with sparks of charisma, employing Asian veterans Yuen Wah (Bruce Lee’s back-flip stunt double) and a frumpy be-curlered Yuen Qiu as a take-no-prisoners landlady with a secret past.  

Infinite kudos to Chow’s exhaustive efforts and masterful success. Sing along with me now…everybody was Kung Fu fighting