|Kung Fu Hustle (2005)
Starring: Steven Chow, Wah Yuen, Qiu Yuen, Kwok Kuen Chan
Director: Stephen Chow
ALSO! Check out where it ranked in our 2005 Year in Review.
Once in a great while, a film comes along that’s got everything you’d ever look for in an instant classic, and it’s hard to wonder how a project such as “Kung Fu Hustle” succeeds as a multi-cultural phenomenon. That is, of course, if it isn’t under the reigns of director/writer/actor Steven Chow, perhaps the epitome of Asian film talent on both sides of the world. As the one man who most Hollywood bozos could probably afford a lesson or two from in filmmaking, Chow is quickly on his way to becoming a household name in America, though he has certainly taken the long road to arrive.
Spending nearly 20 years in the industry and appearing in more than 50 films, the humble one-man show finally received his first worldwide coverage with the release of his highly admired genre-bending flick, “Shaolin Soccer” (2001). The film was unrightfully re-edited and given a different release date so many times by Miramax that its eventual theatrical release went unnoticed, and the film was ultimately decided to be a failure at the American box office. Fortunately, Chow's efforts did not go unnoticed; his latest festival hit, "Kung Fu Hustle," is being so highly touted that it’s only a matter of time until American audiences can finally appreciate a true auteur of the business.
The story takes place in a post-war China during the 1940’s, where the gangs rule the streets and the villagers pay the price. While the members of the notorious Axe Gang, led by their fearless Brother Sum (Kwok Kuen Chan), monopolize the big cities, the poor villagers of Pig Sty Alley go about their daily lives with little interruption. That is until small-time wannabe gangsters, Sing (Chow) and Sidekick (Chi Chung Lam), enter the poverty-stricken village posing as members of the Axe Gang. Instead of hustling a few bucks out of the seemingly harmless residents, Sing uncovers a village filled with kung-fu masters determined to protect their modest lifestyle. Before long, Brother Sum is contracting some of the world’s deadliest assassins in an attempt to save face among his fellow gangsters, and Sing is forced to decide which side is right in the end.
If you’ve ever watched a comedy from China before, you already know exactly why they’ve never succeeded in the past. Most of the Asian comedies are silly beyond professionalism, with the exception of a certain few (“Shall We Dance?” and “Shaolin Soccer"), but Chow knows exactly how to make his films shine, spoofing not only the film culture of Asian cinema, but also that of American films in a great display of crossbreeding genres. In “Kung Fu Hustle,” you never know what to expect from Chow’s silly script, which fully integrates hardcore kung-fu sequences with slapstick humor one minute, and gangster-led song-and-dance numbers the next. The final product helps us to imagine what it would be like to watch Bruce Lee take a shot at comedy.
As a fan of Chow’s cinematic library, I’ll be the first one to admit that some of his past projects are hard to swallow at times, but if there was ever the perfect film to sell his finest moments on screen, this is it. Aside from representing the highest echelon of Chow’s long-running career, “Kung Fu Hustle” is also the best time you’ll have at the movies all year.
The widescreen DVD release of "Kung Fu Hustle" is a perfect example as to what happens when a brilliant import film is handled by the right company. MiramAxe have had their fun cutting, delaying, and inevitably ruining their share of Asian films (most notably "Hero" and Chow's prior picture "Shaolin Soccer"), so it was with great pleasure when I sat down to watch the Sony Classics-released "Kung Fu Hustle." This single-disc release is packed with special features, like an international poster gallery, TV spots, and two mediocre deleted scenes. The meat of the bonus material is found earlier on the disc though, including a full-length audio commentary track with Stephen Chow and various cast and crew, and the Making-Of documentary. Both of these features have been recorded in Mandarin Chinese, but there are English subtitles to help American audiences to follow, and if you're going to bitch and complain about reading subtitles, then you probably shouldn't have rented or purchased this disc to begin with. By far the best feature on the DVD, though, is a lengthy Ric Myers interview with Stephen Chow (in English), discussing everything from his history in the business to the film itself. It's nice to see that Sony Classics took such good care of this DVD release, and it's certainly one worth adding to your collection.