27 April 2005 | FilmOtaku
Being a complete sourpuss when it comes to most comedic film offerings from the last three decades (though I attribute a lot of that to inanity rather than taking full credit for being a wet blanket), I find that when there is a film that makes me laugh so hard that I am concerned about the possibility of a stroke, I have no choice but to rave about it. So having said that, consider this a rave review of Stephen Chow's "Kung Fu Hustle".
While the film itself was entertaining, the prospect of summarizing the scattered plot is not. Set in 1940's Shanghai, "Kung Fu Hustle" basically centers on a tenement ruled over by a mean, chain-smoking landlady (Qiu Yuen) and her whipped husband (Wah Yuen). When someone deigns to complain about the fact that they don't have enough water to take a quick shower, she pounds them senseless, with everyone standing by completely helpless. Flip to another part of town, where the notorious "Axe Gang", a deadly bunch of dancing, axe wielding guys are wreaking havoc on a city that can't even be protected by the police. The two areas of town don't concern themselves with one another until a wannabe member of the Axe Gang, Sing (Stephen Chow) and his sidekick (Chi Chung Lam) poses as a member in the tenement to extort money, causing a series of events to occur in the tenement that wind up with most of the Axe Gang either killed or injured and Brother Sum (Kwok Kuen Chan), the leader of the gang, to do everything in his power to wreak revenge on both the tenement and its occupants, particularly those who act as its safeguards.
As I mentioned earlier, there were a lot of parts that I found so funny that I was either finding myself almost lightheaded from laughing so hard, or finding myself obnoxious because I would struggle to recoup in order to read the subtitles in time to not miss anything. While there are several movie "in jokes" (even one dedicated to Chow's prior film "Shaolin Soccer") it was the sight gags that really did it for me. The chase between Landlady and Sing and especially the knife scene with Sing and his sidekick were brilliant slapstick. A lot of the action was extremely over the top, and complimented by some pretty decent CGI work.
While anyone who has seen "Shaolin Soccer" knows that Chow does not employ a normal cast of "heroes", it was still interesting to see that for the most part, almost anyone who could have heroic qualities attributed to them did not fit the "normal" model. As a matter of fact, several of the major players in the film were middle aged or even elderly, a notion that is both funny and refreshing for anyone who looks for something a little different in their heroes. Surprisingly, there was also a very well conceived scene in the middle of the film involving two professional assassins who are trying to kill the main defenders of the tenement that I found to actually be a pretty kick-ass action sequence. Despite a couple of gags here and there, until the end when the Landlady got involved, the scene was playing off like something I would say "cooool" in an awed tone about in a Tarantino film or something. So while the film was overall one of the funniest I've seen in recent memory, there were a couple of great moments of highly stylized action.
"Kung Fu Hustle" wasn't a perfect film by any means, but the criticisms I have about it are completely nitpicky. For instance, the romance between Sing and the mute girl was just kind of thrown in, though some of it was necessary for background on his character. And a purely aesthetic complaint; I wanted more dancing by the Axe Gang. Chow shouldn't have teased us with the little bit that they danced and then abruptly take it away for the rest of the film. Hey, it's a review I've got to air the good and the bad.
But since the good outweighs the bad exponentially, I highly recommend "Kung Fu Hustle" to just about anyone because of both its action and comedic elements. For making me laugh to the point of near-aneurysm, "Kung Fu Hustle" gets a solid 8/10.