Kung Fu Hustle (2004)
Directed by Stephen Chow

Artistic Value: * * ½
Entertainment Value: * * * ½

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After a clumsy and unsuccessful street hustler, Sing (Stephen Chow), inadvertently brings the brutal Axe Gang into conflict with the residents of Pig Sty Alley, the landlord (Wah Yuen) and landlady (Qiu Yuen) who own the tenements there reveal that they are powerful martial artists and fight those thugs. Unfortunately, when Brother Sum (Kwok Kuen Chan), the leader of the gang, frees the world's deadliest fighter from the mental institution in which he had been incarcerated, even these two are unable to defeat him.

Stephen Chow's Kung Fu Hustle is an incredibly fast faced, uproariously ridiculous, surprisingly exciting, and genuinely fun film.


The movie's action sequences are consistently well done and provide, without a doubt, its most appealing moments. They are filled with a plethora of wildly impossible stunts, all of which are a joy to watch. At different points, one character or another flies into the air, single-handedly takes on armies of opponents, howls at a deadly, stone-cracking volume, transforms himself into a lethal, croaking toad, or engages in some other fabulous, and often charmingly weird, activity. Several of these suffuse the sequences in which they have been incorporated with a real magical feel and conjure up a thrilling sense of wonder, while others are so outrageously absurd that they are utterly hilarious.


Sadly, none of the film's characters are as engaging as are the fights in which they are involved. Sing, though the protagonist, is a virtual nonentity. Sum, the villain, is threatening and has bad teeth, but absolutely no personality. The landlady is an unpleasant, threatening harridan, and so on. Not one of them is likely to intrigue the viewer.


Even the story that develops around such individuals is usually little more than an excuse for its fight sequences or for several other comic routines. When the tale is not made subservient to such elements, however, it is even worse than when it is. For instance, Sing's interactions with a young mute woman whom he had unsuccessfully tried to save from bullies when they were children, only to be beaten up by those persons himself, are presented in a maudlin way, and his relationship with that girl is never effectively developed. The protagonist's transformation from a worthless scoundrel into a martial arts hero and defender of the poor is so quick and arbitrary that it is completely false, and the troubles of the inhabitants of Pig Stye alley are presented and forgotten so rapidly that they do little more than provide the pretext for the movie's subsequent events. While none of these narrative threads are captivating, they are, nonetheless, punctuated by so much humor that they are never boring either.


Despite all its weaknesses, as Kung Fu Hustle exists merely for its elaborate, exhilarating, and hilarious action sequences, and these are all wonderfully fun, I cannot say that the movie is a failure. In fact, it really is a pleasure to watch.

Review by Keith Allen

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