Cinerama: Kung Fu Hustle

Posted: September 12, 2009 in Cinerama

Kung Fu Hustle

By Mike Derderian

When was the last time you saw a good Kung Fu movie? No, not the Jackie Chan Hollywood mumbo jumbo, in which the tongue and cheek jokes of motor mouth Chris Tucker and Owen Wilson steal the shine off Chan’s unbeatable back kicks and daring moves.

But a real old school Kung Fu movie that doesn’t have to have a good dialogue to be enjoyable or a clever plot with a sick twist and an eye-opener ending that will blow one’s mind. But simply a kick-ass Kung Fu film with no bull attitude that reads: If you miss with this guy, you are dead.

Of course Chan gets an A for the fact that he is over 40, still does his own stunts and is funny; but what happened to the movies that had good fight scenes, lots of blood and non-stop body counts where a single guy takes out an entire gang of armed-to-the-teeth villains! Wait don’t answer, for this is a rhetorical question and here’s the answer: They all went to video.

Bruce Lee did it all the time and Hollywood loved it, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to calculate the effects of Hong Kong movies and the shockwave of Lee’s dragon fist on Hollywood action flicks like: Charlie’s Angels, The Matrix, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Blade, The Kill Bill and every Jean Claude Van Damme film that was ever made. The list is long but the column space is not.

With the new wave cinema and the I watch sophisticated films, therefore I am clever tagline, it became a taboo for a person to ask for a Kung Fu movie or a Bollywood production for that matter, from a video rental store without looking behind his shoulder, to see if there is someone laughing at his/her taste.

I remember growing up watching Kung Fu movies in which Chinese actors spoke English in a funny exaggerated manner—it wasn’t until years later that I found out it was because of lousy and unsynchronized dubbing. I always loved the cliché image of the wise Kung Fu master, who had whiskers that reached down to his waist and was always able to beat up his apprentice despite one minor detail: His extreme old age.

Those wise masters uttered trivial but philosophical phrases like the following: What you see lies in front of you but it takes a shepherd to teach a goat how to fetch a stick. Watch how the hawk catches the unsuspecting rabbit; this is called the attack of the heeding hawk.

So dear reader, if you’re thinking that you have missed out on the golden Kung Fu video era, you’re right; but once you’ve cleared your mind, focused your senses, caught a fly with chop sticks…you can skip that one, and rented Stephan’s Chow 2004 Kung Fu Hustle, you’ll become a Kung Fu master, whose chest rages with funny fury. How? All is possible within the boundaries of your mind.

Kung Fu Hustle is hilarious, hysterically violent and yes it is about Kung Fu but à la Matrix visual effect style. Some will call it a seat warmer but in the Cinerama terminology book, it is a meteor waiting to hit earth in the form of Stephan Chow. If you thought the Matrix CGI effects and fight scenes were spectacular wait until you see the fight sequence between the three good Kung Fu masters with the harp assassins, it will blow your mind.

With the Buddha Palm strike; the Lion’s roar; the Twelve Kicks of the Tan school; the Iron fist and Hexagon Staff School fighting styles; baddies should beware because Chow’s directorial hustle certainly unleashed the fury of the ordinary looking-man.

This is the first Kung Fu movie where you’ll ever see a loud mouth heavy smoker landlady, whose head is covered with a styling net and is packed with hair rolls, beat two professional assassins with only her voice.

Set in the 1940s China, most of the film’s action takes place in a neighborhood called the Pig Sty Alley—a housing complex that lives up to its name. Sing (Chow), is a wannabe small time crook that wants to join the Axe gang member. What does he have to do? Well, he has to kill someone and prove himself worthy of becoming an Axe member to crime boss Brother Sum (Kuen Chan). So he decides to pick up a fight with some of the alley’s tenants and landlords but to his misfortune they turned out to be Kung Fu masters.

This non-stop laugh and action blockbuster stars Stephan Chow, Wah Yuen, Qiu Yuen, Kwok Kuen Chan, Siu Lung Leung, Dong Zhi Hua, Chiu Chi Ling, Xing Yu, Chi Chung Lam and Yuen Woo-Ping, who is the film’s action choreographer, as the homeless man with the scroll of the Buddhist Palm.

Chow not only proved to be a capable writer and director but also a competent actor with a strong knack for comedy on the physical level and facial (of course with the jam-packed CGI, you won’t be able to tell the difference between what’s real and what’s not).

This relatively short blockbuster—99 minutes—brilliantly pokes fun at the 1940’s mob styled movies, the Matrix and Spiderman with only a one linear delivered by a dying Kung Fu master masquerading as a noodles and congee chef without having to resort to Kung Fu film clichés. Instead Chow helped in creating a different Kung Fu world where the ancient martial art can blend easily with daily life chores and even sports as in his 2003 Shaolin Soccer that I haven’t seen yet.

“With great powers comes great responsibilities,” the Spiderman catch phrase never sounded funnier even for a dedicated Spiderman fan like me. Of course being in Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin) you won’t be able to laugh as you should but the delivery of speech is so funnily exaggerated and well acted by all actors that you’ll laugh anyway sooner than you read the subtitles.

Must see scenes: The fight between the beast (Siu Lung Leung) and Sing; the landlord’s antics in the beginning of the film and the casino fight scene along with his wife plus the Buddhist palm attack sequence near the end. Sing’s meeting with his long lost childhood romance Fong, the deaf ice-cream vendor, was one of my favorites.

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