|Inventive and swift, Kung-Fu Hustle is an energetic film that doesn't really fit neatly into one particular genre, its filmmakers choosing instead to approach the story with an emphasis on cramming as much "fun" into their product as possible. Far from existing as an experience whose value would be shared by only those aficionados of Hong Kong Cinema, newcomers to this type of film should not let the subtitles scare them away from a potential viewing. Featuring absorbing (though not revolutionary) fight choreography and a well chosen cast of actors, one of the film's largest draws is its combination of dramatic humor and an almost cartoon-like approach to real life.|
It is well within the boundaries of a "kung-fu" film to allow its characters to disregard the laws of physics and this movie is no exception. In that regard, Hustle is comparable to some of its most widely released contemporaries (films like Crouching Tiger and Kill Bill Vol. 1), but while the drama of the story is just as poignant as other kung-fu filled movies, Hustle takes an honest approach to its comedy, allowing the element to find as much importance with the audience as do the fight sequences. Though the fight sequences do give the audience everything one would expect from a film that attempts to combine the world of the 1940's American mobsters and Hong Kong chop socky.
Yes, that's mobsters and kung-fu together in one film. But not all of the magic in the film comes from a well conceived sense of gangster fantasy and fight choreography. Much of the film's success comes from the cast's abilities to convey a sense of realism even though they're usually flying through the air at impossible heights and getting into fights with groups of foes sporting far larger numbers (it always seems in kung-fu movies that the hero must battle a couple hundred evil martial artists all on his own). And when these single heroes are successful in battle against impossible odds, somehow their triumph seems entirely probable.
Hustle sports a large number of important roles and while each actor seems to have had their role written for exactly their talents, it is actress Qiu Yuen, who plays the vitriolic and loud-mouthed "landlady" who steals a great deal of the show. Her character undergoes a great deal of transformation over the course of the film and despite a thirty-one year absence from cinema (her last film role was in an uncredited role in 1974's James Bond film, The Man with the Golden Gun), she looks as comfortable in front of the camera as a veteran with thirty years of on-camera experience. She actually adopted the diet of a sumo wrestler to gain forty pounds for her role in this film.
Other memorable appearances in the film come from such actors as Wah Yuen, a prolific alumnus of the Chinese Opera School, who plays the "landlord" beside Qui Yuen's landlady, and is an actor who reportedly has the ability to copy the style of any martial artist. His scenes are both comedic and vibrant and his casting opposite Qiu Yuen was one of the best decisions for the casting director. Also putting in a welcome appearance is newcomer Chi Chung Lam, veteran of only four films, who plays an overweight yet likeable sidekick. The role is a minor one yet Lam seems at home in front of the camera, much as does nearly every single actor in the film.
But truth be told, there's no single element of the film that's never been seen in a movie before. It's just that Hustle crams in a great deal of eye-catching set decoration and cinematography into its tidy ninety-five minutes. The interesting slant on reality presented in the movie is almost reminiscent of the type of mystical realities created by Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki (he directed Spirited Away). Although the comparison to Miyazaki is a mild stretch in this particular film, director Stephen Chow (who also stars as "Sing" in the film) still exhibits a great deal of creativity in his product that seems vacant from far too many contemporary films.
Kung-Fu Hustle is a terrific example of a viscerally satisfying film that makes it possible to believe that everything being put on celluloid today is not of the bland, soft genre of mainstream Hollywood action films (and certainly mainstream comedies as well). This is not a perfect film and has some minor faults in pacing and editing, but those hurdles are easily crossed with the degree of enthusiasm so genuinely displayed by the cast. The film is a rewarding theatrical experience and should pleasantly surprise any viewer wishing to distance himself from the current tepid offerings by Hollywood's elite.
Review by Kelsey Wyatt.