The beginning of the year 2004 wasn’t such a good year for Hong Kong cinema seeing as the highest-grossing film only took in $ 25 million dollars. That is until the release of Stephen Chow’s eagerly anticipated “KUNG FU HUSTLE” that once again sparked interest in local HK movies and shattered box-office records during that same year. So how did Chow pull off something that Jackie Chan, Andy Lau and even Johnnie To couldn’t pull off that year? It is the elements of slapstick humor, special effects, kung fu fighting action, Asian mysticism while blending in an entertaining commercial appeal. Yes, Chow does all this while maintaining a profound respect for the spirit of kung fu.
1930’s Shang-hai. The Axe Gang led by Brother Sum (Chan Kwok-Kwan, Shaolin Soccer) has dominated the local underworld and controls every aspect of the city with an iron fist. The only place that one may be free from the criminal activities would be to live in the areas where poverty is a lifestyle. A downtrodden dope named Sing (Stephen Chow) and his overweight sidekick (Lam Chi-Chung) has ambitions of joining the much-debated Axe gang as they even pretend to be members to extort money from the residents of Pig Sty alley. Their efforts bear little fruit as the most humble resident of the area seems equipped to deal with Sing and his machinations. Fate deals its hand when the REAL Axe Gang members are led to show up that causes three kung fu masters in hiding to reveal themselves to defend the people of Pig Sty alley. Brother Sum is now in conflict with the masters as he counters in recruiting his own kung fu masters to take them down. As Sing ponders his own character and beliefs, one of them is the killer called “The Beast” (Leung Siu-Lung) and it make more than the skills of kung fu masters to keep him at bay. Is he the ultimate fighter that only someone who hasn’t revealed himself can match toe-to-toe?
“Kung Fu Hustle” is the stereotypical tale of good vs. evil and carries all the elements that aren’t very original. A young man looking to find his destiny while being torn between both sides is an overused formula. Indeed, even the comedic maneuvers in the film aren’t exactly anything we haven’t seen before, but Stephen Chow’s storytelling makes it work with a sensibility that is very pleasing to his audience and proves very enthralling to the viewer. Chow also pitches in a strong homage to his idol, the late great Bruce Lee while staying true to the spirit of martial arts. The energetic direction blatantly channels the style and feel of Chinese comic books and Japanese anime; from movies to novels, Chow creatively references to entice his audience. The use of CGI effects are perfectly utilized to enhance the martial arts action, not just for show, but to efficiently express the power of the bone-crushing blows. Slow motion is also used in some of the fight choreography to express the idea that masters can see fast-moving objects in slo-mo because of the way they process data through their senses. Being a kung fu master appears to be something mystical or something resembling superhuman power in Stephen Chow’s creation. The film makes it work in a very pleasing manner that mixes in humor, action, visuals and charm, despite being a little predictable, Chow makes the film moving at a very brisk pace.
The characters in the film are the type that resembles cartoonist cut-outs and caricatures with a mixture of big name stars and barely known starlets. The landlords of Pig Sty alley (played by Yuen Qui and Yuen Wah) are hilarious and channels much of the film’s strengths in the comedy department. The supporting cast played by Tin Kai-Man, Lam Suet and Lam Chi-Chung who are Stephen Chow cohorts are decently injected in the screenplay. A tailor (Chi Ling Chiu), a noodle dealer named Donut (Zhi Hua Dong) and a coolie (Yu Xing, Flashpoint) play the other masters who proved to the catalyst for the conflict. Feng Xiao Gang even plays a brief cameo as the crocodile gang boss. The film is full of tributes and key elements that project a nostalgic sense.
The film does have flaws in the narrative albeit Chow manages to cover them up masterfully. Sing’s love interest is played by Huang Sheng-Yi as a mute ice cream dealer who had links to his childhood seems a little lame at first look but proves to be a good plot device despite the fact that is very flimsy. Much of Sing’s characterization occurs in the form of flashbacks, but most of the other characters are severely underdeveloped and the conflicts are a little unimaginative. The heroes of the film are the residents of Pig Sty alley, and so when Sing does take center-stage if feels a tad forced as his character commands a cliché that has been used in other Shaw Bros. installments; it was handled exceptionally well despite its narrative shortcomings.
The film's action choreographer is the legendary Yuen Wo-Ping (Kill Bill, Fearless) who has directed numerous fight sequences that has won awards. The kung fu style is slightly exaggerated and mimics the style we are used to in comic books. The action in the film has that audience-pleasing effect that makes the film very fun and enjoyable. The fights are beautiful, while some prove to have the touch of the old-school kung fu flicks that exhibit grace and power, some reflect the bullet time panache and hard-hitting slow motion that is a significant part of the screenplay rather than just for show. The special effects are very spiffy and nicely executed in the film’s proceedings. The final encounter looked very mystical, magical and quite intense, while at the same time it pays homage to other martial arts films.
There are two versions of the film in the U.S., one is the highly edited Sony version and the unedited Ax-Kicking edition. The best version of the film is in its Hong Kong release that has the spectacularly mastered video and DTS-ES original Cantonese language track.
The differences are as follows:
Scene 1; The landlady throws her husband out of a window and drops a flower pot that ended up on the back of his head. The original cut showed a small pool of blood coming from his face, but the original U.S. version digitally omitted it. The blood now appears as part of the film.
Scene 2; Sing heckles/insults the residents of Pig Sty Alley and gets hit in the tummy by a woman. The original uncut version showed Sing spitting up blood which landed on the woman's face, but the earlier U.S. version digitally removed the blood (though some still appeared around Sing's mouth). The blood now appears in the ax-kickin’ edition.
Scene 3; This may be more offensive to others; it takes place on the eve of the big attack on Pig Sty Alley. The Hong Kong cut showed a man taking a dump onto a piece of paper as the camera panned by, but the American version digitally removed the offensive feces. Now the paper is no longer blank. "Mr. Poo" makes an appearance!
Scene 4; Sing confronts "The Beast" in the casino, he gets hit hard on the chest twice. After the 2nd hit, blood sprays on The Beast's face and Sing is shown reeling backwards from the force of the punch with blood spurting from his mouth. The first U.S. version previously removed both of these sequential shots.
Scene 5; Also in the casino, Sing's head is hit on his face, hammered into the ground by The Beast. After the first hit, The Beast's bloody fist is shown emerging from the floor in slow motion...but the first U.S. version removed this shot entirely
“Kung Fu Hustle” isn’t a perfect film. Stephen Chow’s execution may be a little undercooked with the poor characterization, devices that appear too convenient, some comedy feels rather obligatory and the plot itself is a little under constructed resorting to very clichéd elements. Still, Stephen Chow is one filmmaker who can get himself out of a narrative jam and efficiently resort to the energy and spectacle to muster up wholehearted commercial sensibilities. Chow exhibits an understanding as to what his audience wants as he manages to surprise, and even challenge expectations in a wildly entertaining manner in a mishmash of genre conventions. No other filmmaker can channel such charisma out of a stereotypical character to immediately win over the viewer completely. This is Stephen Chow at one of his best films.
Kung Fu Hustle (Chinese: 功夫; pinyin: Gōngfu) is a 2004 action comedy film directed and produced by, and starring Stephen Chow. The other film producers were Chui Po-chu and Jeffrey Lau, while the screenplay was written by Huo Xin, Chan Man-keung, and Tsang Kan-cheung. Yuen Wah, Yuen Qiu, Danny Chan, and Bruce Leung co-starred in prominent roles. After achieving commercial success with Shaolin Soccer, Columbia Pictures Film Production Asia began to develop Kung Fu Hustle in 2002. Although the film features the return of a number of retired actors famous for 1970s Hong Kong action cinema, it contrasts with other martial arts films released at around the same time that have made the biggest impact in the West, such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero. The cartoon style of the movie, accompanied by traditional Chinese music, is often cited as its most striking feature. The film was released on December 23, 2004 in China and on January 25, 2005 in United States. It received extremely positive reviews, with Rotten Tomatoes giving it a 90% fresh certificate and Metacritic 78 out of 100. A commercial success (grossing USD$17 million in United States and USD$84 million in foreign countries.), Kung Fu Hustle was the highest-grossing film in the history of Hong Kong and the tenth highest-grossing foreign language film. It was also the highest-grossing foreign language film in the United States in 2005. Kung Fu Hustle won numerous awards, including Hong Kong Film Awards ...