Review: Kung Fu Hustle

by James Seidler

It probably isn’t the most professional move to begin a movie review quoting someone else’s opinion, but since I’m not getting paid for this, here goes: Roger Ebert says Kung Fu Hustle is “Jackie Chan and Buster Keaton meet Quentin Tarantino and Bugs Bunny.” His statement is the perfect summary of a film that, with its manic energy, over-the-top action, and willingness to poke fun at itself, will satisfy those who usually aren’t part of the “wire work” and sharp implements crowd.

The story, which works capably to string together the jokes and fight scenes, revolves around the main character Sing (played by writer/director Stephen Chow) and his desire to join the notorious “Axe Gang,” named for the implements they use to lop off enemies’ limbs, and for props in the occasional dance number. Sing’s drift towards a somewhat lazy evil stems from a youthful experience involving a second-rate kung fu manual and a group of bigger kids with unfortunately active bladders.

Now an adult, his attempt to pass as an Axe Gang member leads to a feud between the real group and Pig Sty village, a local slum that holds a surprising array of kung fu masters exploring the private sector. As matters escalate, Sing is recruited by the Axes to spring “The Beast” from a mental asylum to teach the warriors in Pig Sty village a lesson. The movie rarely stops to catch its breath afterwards as fight scenes escalate with increasingly hyper choreography.

This action serves to complement the strong vein of humor that runs throughout the film. Many of the fight scenes are both exciting and slyly self-deprecating, as new masters spring forth from the most unlikely of sources (and, somewhat mincingly, sexual orientations). Sing’s attempts at villainy, while seemingly sincere, are inevitably bungled through knife-throwing mishaps and lessons learned at the hands of those with the foresight to not gain their kung fu instruction from the two-cent manual.

Even the ending, which is largely turned over to kicks and back flips, still keeps its tongue in check—when a character is launched into the heavens by a devastating blow from a practitioner of “the Toad style,” he steps on a falcon in mid-flight to further his momentum. The satisfying squawk that results is emblematic of the marriage between the fantastic and the hilarious that makes this film so successful.


© 2005 James Seidler, All Rights Reserved.