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Kung Fu Hustle (2004) – Movie Review

Kung Fu Hustle

Written by Tsang Kan Cheong, Stephen Chow, Xin Huo, Chan Man Keung
Directed by Stephen Chow
Starring Stephen Chow, Wah Yuen, Qiu Yuen, Kwok Kuen Chan, Siu Lung Leung

My Advice: I’ll tell you as soon as I stop laughing.

It’s Shanghai in the 1940s and gangs are running amok. One of the baddest of the badass gangs is the Axe Gang. Led by the desperately in need of dental work Brother Sum (Chan), they are more army than gang. Not only will they kill your ass as soon as they look at you, but they will get their groove thing on as well. No, I’m serious. The poor sections of town have no problems with gangs, because they’re just below radar. That all changes when Sing (Chow) and friend (Chi Chung Lam) stumble into Pig Sty Alley and try to scam a haircut…badly. They bring the wrath of the Axe Gang to the neighborhood, and the results aren’t what anyone would necessarily expect.

[ad#longpost]I have been remiss in checking out Chow’s work. I admit that. That will all change after seeing this film. This is a funny damn movie. It’s such a good movie it almost seems like it’s a denigration to refer to it as a parody. It fits, though, since you’ve got the obligatory naming of kung fu styles that seems like somebody just slapped an animal name onto some other word to create them. You’ve got kung fu masters, though, that don’t look in any sense like kung fu masters. At least the ones that we’re used to seeing. No spoilers, but the sleekness of a Chow Yun-Fat or Zhang Ziyi are nowhere to be found. And it works.

There are plenty of nice twists in the film, and one that struck me is just how little Chow is actually in the film. The focus is on, instead, the denizens of the Alley, and Chow’s character spends a lot of time away from it. This is not a bad thing, it works perfectly in the story and was just a bit surprising. What’s also surprising is just how much this thing manages to borrow from Tex Avery and, in the moment which finally, I think, broke me: Kubrick. Fight god Yuen Wo Ping shows up in a cameo and Sammo Hung helps out with choreography as well, so you get the laughs, and you get the fu. Lots of the fu. Matrix-level fu and beyond. It’s like playing a martial arts version of Calvinball, for God’s sake.

I could talk about the acting, but really, there’s not much for any of them to do but deliver beatdowns and hilarity with increasing velocity. I will say that Leung makes for a really great lunatic of a bad guy, however. I really need this with a Doc Ezra commentary, since there’s a lot of homages going on in the realm of fu that I missed.

Suffice to say, though, whether you’re well versed in fu or not, this film is a must see. If you can see it on the big screen, all the better. But holy crap, what a good time. Got all those Lucas cooties out of my system, that’s for sure.

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