Stu’s Review (Mostly Spoiler-Free)

The second movie in Blake’s quest to introduce me to Martial Arts movies is Stephen Chow’s ‘Kung Fu Hustle’. This was another one I was unfamiliar with going in and honestly that might have been the best thing because I ended up enamoured with the film. Like the Dragon review, I will be keeping story spoilers to a minimum – this review is for people like me who have never seen it and maybe it will convince people to give it a shot even if they are, like me, not a martial arts film expert. Down below there will be a review from Blake who might go more in depth.

Kung-Fu Hustle follows the misadventures of local loser Sing (Stephen Chow, also the director, co-writer, co-producer) who, along with his sidekick Bone, wants to be a part of the Axe Gang – a vicious gang who have become the most powerful in China. However every attempt he makes to get initiated into the gang usually leads to disaster. The Axe Gang have also started targeting a small rundown village called Pigsty Alley after they attempted to attack it only to be thwarted by three Kung-Fu Masters.

The movie is zany and cartoonish – it at times very much follows Looney Tunes logic in the action. Characters such as the landlady and her husband in Pigsty Alley, Sing and Bone and the three Kung-Fu masters are all memorable and funny, the Axe Gang, especially in the opening scene, are so over the top that I couldn’t help but like them. The comedy in the film hits all the right notes, barely any joke that I can think of doesn’t land and the martial arts are still impressive but with the additional freedom due to the cartoonish world to go a little bit crazier during action scenes.

It is the best kind of crazy film, yet the ending hits perfectly – the ending isn’t funny but it is warm, lovely and wholesome and a perfect way to cap off the film. Despite the zany characters, the over the top action and the constant shift in tones, it is clear that this film was made with a lot of heart and it shows in the main characters path through the film. It still respects martial arts but it has so much fun with the plot, the characters, the action, the setting and just about everything that I immediately fell in love with the film and it only grew by the time the film was over.

This is exactly the type of film that feels like it was made for me, I loved it. It was just so much fun and I do feel this could be a gateway to more serious MA films but for now I can’t recommend this film enough. If you like comedies check this one out.

Blake’s Review (Spoiler Heavy)

From Stu’s review above, if you haven’t seen Kung Fu Hustle then you have a good idea what to expect. If you have seen it or you don’t mind spoilers then I’m going to go ahead and break down my reasons for picking it in our 10 Martial Arts Movies Marathon! It was another choice I made off the bat, along with Dragon, because it is a very different movie to the typical expectation of martial arts films. While there are incredible choreographed fight scenes littered throughout the run time, there is a fantastic blend of depth and outrageous comedy to keep the film feeling fresh.

The plot, as Stu mentioned, follows Sing and Bone, two complete losers who just want to join the most powerful gang in all of China, no big deal. It is revealed from the beginning that while they see themselves as would-be gangsters, the “brains and brawn” approach they take quickly falls apart when Bone is a complete puppy dog and Sing can’t formulate a plan to save himself. As the story progresses you see how, as a child, Sing was fooled by a vagrant into thinking he was a kung fu genius and he has since believed he was destined to be great.

The story takes place between Shanghai and Pigsty Alley, going from Sing and Bone acting like Axe Gang members before being chased away by the fantastic Landlady, to Sing being brought in to the Axe Gang after pushing Bone away due to their repeated failures. As the Axe Gang clashes with the residents of Pigsty Alley, we are introduced to the three kung fu masters that live there: Coolie, Donut and Tailor. Each of them was taught in a different school and watching them fight with their rings, staffs and kicks is a lot of fun to watch since this film loves to send a ridiculous number of faceless goons to be beaten up. The alley is watched over by the Landlady and her husband the Landlord who are later revealed to be two legendary Masters known as The Lovers. The Landlady possesses The Lion’s Roar, a scream that can destroy anything in it’s path and the Landlord has such inhuman flexibility that most attacks just bounce right off him to comical effect.

Sing, now attempting to please Brother Sum of the Axe Gang, is tasked with freeing “The Beast” an apparent kung fu master with unmatched power. While successful, Sing accidentally angers The Beast and ends up beaten so badly that, after rescuing him, the Landlord and Landlady doubt his survival chances. The movie then throws a beautiful metaphorical image at you when the Axe Gang, now following the Beast, catch up to Pigsty Alley and come across a freshly opened cocoon of bandages. It’s revealed that Sing actually IS a kung fu genius but his Qi flow was blocked until the Beast literally beat it into a reset. The ensuing fight with a newly reborn Sing is the highlight of the film for me. After fighting waves of generic goons with moves such as stomping on toes and pinball sound effects, the final fight between the Beast and Sing begins and the frankly gross fight style of the Beast is shown. He is basically a toad, complete with stretchy throat. Their fight culminates in Sing stepping on an airborne eagle to literally reach enlightenment before unleashing a palm strike so powerful it causes the Beast to submit to Sing’s greater strength.

The martial marts combat in the movie is a lot of fun to watch, not afraid to go into a cartoonish style for the most part which really just adds to the perfect humour of the whole movie. That’s not to say that there’s not genuine emotion either, the backstory between Sing and a mute girl he met as a child and the “3 masters vs The Musicians” scene genuinely gets me emotional. Stephen Chow had done a fantastic job in front and behind the camera and this film feels like a labour of love rather than a way to cash a paycheck.

This film is PERFECT for people who want to watch a martial arts film without wanting to apply too much brain power to it but it’s got just enough depth that it doesn’t feel catered to younger audiences. This stands up, 14 years later, as a staple martial arts film for everyone.

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