Jackie Chan blazed the trail of the comedy
martial arts film. He blended elements from Buster Keaton, Harold
Lloyd, the Three Stooges, Chinese Opera, and Bruce Lee. The
result: totally awesome.
Now, a new challenger has entered the arena.
Stephen Chow is a writer/director/star who tries to expand on the Jackie
Chan formula to include elements from classic cartoons. Blending
wirework, computer graphics, and nuttiness, Stephen Chow has created the
first Kung Fu live action cartoon.
You may remember Stephen Chow from
Shaolin Soccer. If you haven't seen that movie, you should.
Go right now and watch it. That is, if you like funny martial
arts. It's worth a look-see.
Kung Fu Hustle is advertised as a blend of musical and action
movie; references are made to The Matrix, Crouching Tiger,
Buster Keaton, and Jackie Chan. However, don't be fooled.
Stephen Chow's emphasis in Kung Fu Hustle is less on the Kung
Fu and more on the Hustle, if "hustle" is slang for "computer
graphics." There isn't a lot of fighting in the film. There
are, however, a lot of interesting characters with cool special powers.
It's a bit like a computer game, actually. There aren't any
training montages. Everyone in the film is already a master, which
is a nice premise. But, they don't spend much time with
traditional hand-to-hand moves. These are ultra-masters.
They use their mystical powers to do things that can't be done (without
the help of CGI, that is.)
As an example, if you saw The Matrix Reloaded, there was a
scene where Neo fought hundreds of versions of Mr. Smith. Bodies
flew around, got knocked over like bowling pins, shot into the air, and
flopped like rag dolls. It was a superhero movie. So is
Kung Fu Hustle. It goes beyond over-the-top. It's
ludicrous. However, it's not supposed to be realistic. Those
of you who want a good realistic martial arts flick should check out
Ong Bak; Kung Fu Hustle is pure
The acting is good across the board. That's a good thing, since
there can be long breaks between action scenes. All of the
characters are distinct and memorable, which you don't see very often,
even in "real" movies. This is especially impressive considering
that many of the principle actors have limited acting experience.
The Landlady, for example, was last scene in the James Bond film The
Man with the Golden Gun, in 1974, in a bit role. It turns out
that she went to Chinese Opera school with Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung,
so you know she knows her stuff. Not only that, she put on 40
pounds for the role. Eat your hearts out, Robert DeNiro.
Deep fry it, cover it in chocolate sauce, and eat it...that's how you
pack on the pounds.
There are some impressive computer graphics and they're used to great
effect. There's much less emphasis on physically demanding humor;
there isn't much in the way of eye-popping acrobatics. Mostly it's
CGI and wirework. But, it's refreshingly funny, and there are some
truly funny moments. Stephen Chow knows how to get the laughs.
It's more cartoony than Kung-Fuey, but fans of martial arts movies,
Stephen Chow, or silly comedies will all have a good time. It's
too bad there weren't more musical numbers; there was only one, and it
seems like a musical-comedy-kung-fu movie could be a big hit. Even
so, Kung Fu Hustle is great fun.
Expectation from the Title: The latest self-defense dance
Mother's Rule (Always Say Something Good About Everything):
Stephen Chow is cute, talented, and funny. He'd be invited over
for dinner any time.
The Pros: Funny, visually impressive, memorable characters,
The Cons: Less kung fu than you might expect; might be too
cartoonish for some people's tastes. Not enough musical numbers.
Steven Chow, Kungfu Hustle, Kung Fu
Hussle, Shoalin Soccer, Buster Keeton