Monday, January 15, 2007

KUNG-FU HUSTLE



Movie of the week:
KUNG-FU HUSTLE

It’s a martial arts-30’s-gangster-action-comedy!

The insane lunatics that brought you Shaolin Soccer are back with a bigger, better, badder epic. This film is at least as fun and enjoyable but also benefits from a bigger budget and better writing. Mostly the same cast is back, but the characters and story are different (No soccer!). Writer-director-actor Stephen Chow is the Hong Kong answer to Jim Carey. Like many of his previous films, this one mixes comedy and parody with the artistry of martial arts – but on crack.

Sing, a wannabe gangster, dreams of joining the notorious Axe Gang (I wonder what they’re all about). Then, he figures, he’d finally get some respect. But it’s not that easy. He must first prove his worthiness to the ruthless gang leader. However, when he tries to lean on some of the locals in a small neighborhood, he finds that some of them may be more than they seem. In fact, everybody seems to be more than they seem. In fact (again), he himself may be more than he seems. In fact, he seems to be the only clueless character in this whole movie.

The gestalt of the film is a mixture of gravity defying martial arts sequences, physics defying action scenes, prohibition-era mob confrontations, cartoon looniness, and tender romance. (Just kidding about the romance.) Just as in Shaolin Soccer, each kung-fu scene is designed to out-do the previous one. Each one gets progressively crazier, with exaggerated stunts that can only be realized with the help of CGI. Each scene will make you laugh harder than the one before.

Although Chow’s film style is very original (you won’t find any other movies like it), he does occasionally make references to, what I can only guess, are his favorite movies, actors, and directors. Here’s a short list of the ones that I noticed.

  1. Every Bruce Lee movie.
  2. Quentin Tarantino – I know you probably think I’m referring to Kill Bill, or even Kill Bill, vol. 2, but no! That would be too obvious. What I’m referring to is Reservoir Dogs (…… and of course to Kill Bill and Kill Bill, vol. 2).
  3. Gangs of New York – that whole gang thing. Much more so than, say West Side Story (no singing, no Leonard Bernstein soundtrack, and no dancing – well, at least not much dancing – OK, some dancing. But no singing and no Leonard Bernstein soundtrack. Well, not much singing …. ).
  4. Road runner cartoons. Yeah, that’s right, I said road runner cartoons.
  5. The Matrix Reloaded – especially the fight sequences. However, these two movies came out at about the same time so it’s hard to say which came first.
  6. Scarface – the Al Capone movie, not the Al Pacino one. Anything with Tommy guns – why did they call them “Tommy” guns? Why do they give weapons names anyway? – like Tommy guns, Billy clubs, Sherman tanks, and Bobby pins (OK – so I’m reaching here).
  7. Chow Yun-Fat movies, like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon – except for all that mucking around in the trees …… and the whole romance sub-plot …… and the whole revenge sub-plot ……. and the sad and enigmatic ending. But the rest of it – definitely!

Warning: Shaolin Soccer was totally a family comedy. KUNG-FU HUSTLE is also a family-friendly action comedy. However there is one rather violent scene right at the beginning of the film that may be inappropriate for very young children. It’s certainly not as violent as other films that kids watch (like Star Wars or the Indiana Jones films, and lots of others), but if you’re worried about it, don’t bring the kids in until about 10 minutes into the movie. They just use that scene, as in many such movies, to establish in no uncertain terms, who the bad guy is, and just how bad he is. It says, “Yeah, he’s bad. He’ll get his in the end – but in the meantime – watch out!”

Note: The film is in Chinese (Mandrin and Cantonese) with subtitles in various languages. In addition, the US release of this DVD has an English language soundtrack as an option so that you don't have to read subtitles if you don't want to.

BTW: It scores a 90% on the tomatometer! Check it out - lots of good reviews and comments there.

Enjoy.

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