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China/Hong Kong 2004
Directed by
Stephen Chow
95 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
5 stars

Kung Fu Hustle

Synopsis: In 1930s Shanghai, the Axe Gang reigns supreme. The only parts of the city the Axes have ignored are the pooest sections. When wannabe bad guy Sing (Stephen Chow) and his even more incompetant offsider (Lam Tze Chung) arrives in Pigsty Alley pretending to be a member of the Axe Gang he unintentionally sparks a life-and-death battle between some of the residents living there and the real Axe Gang.

Good cinema can be many things - romantic, educational, confronting and so on but in many ways its apotheosis comes when the audience is transported to a larger-than-life experience. Hollywood regularly tries for this with the blockbuster but most of the time only manages to achieve larger and misses out on the life. Stephen Chow, the director/writer/producer/star of the action/comedy Kung Fu Hustle achieves this with an extraordinarily kinetic film that vibrates with irreverent energy. Yes it is violent, for most viewers in this respect the reference point being more Tarentino than Jackie Chan, but it is done with such hyperbolic, cartoon-like genre style and overall leavened with healthy doses of comedy and sentiment that to be fair one could never call this offensive. Some people may have seen Chow's Shaolin Soccer last year which had very limited run in a bowdlerised Miramax release but was nevertheless generally well-received. That film was stylistically similar (and Chow also played a charcter called Sing), but, Miramax aside, this is a major advance upon it. Gloriously absurd, infectiously camp and ceaselessly inventive, lovers of kung fu, and 60s and 70s Shaw Brothers' movies in particular, will lap this up but if you have an appetite for excess that is not at the same time brainless, this is a sure-fire winner.

Whilst there are no doubt many references in the film that will be lost on those who are not particularly familiar with the kung fu genre (for instance, the presence of Yuen Wah, who plays a kung fu master masquerading as a seriously hen-pecked husband, and worked at one time as Bruce Lee's stunt double and was a respected action choreographer), Chow also scatters around tongue-in-cheek allusions to well-known Western films. His film is well-structured in itself, interweaving the de rigeur action sequences with a generically-typical, irresistibly sentimental narrative thread involving Sing's history but all of this would amount to little were it not for its brilliantly cinematic realization. Here we can thank the fight choreography of Yuen Woo Ping and Sammo Ho, the high-spirited, selfless performances, particularly that of Yuen Qiu as The Landlady (a one-time glamour-puss who appeared in The Man With the Golden Gun, 1974) and the team responsible for post-production work (some of which was done here in Victoria).




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