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Original Title:
Kung Fu

China/Hong Kong 2004

Martial Arts, Comedy, Fantasy

Stephen Chow

Stephen Chow
Yuen Qiu
Yuen Wah
Lung Leung Siu
Lam Chi Chung
Chan Kwok Kuen
Lam Suet

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Kung Fu Hustle

Story: In the 30s Shanghai is controlled by the Axe-gang. Only a small neighborhood community could escape the gangs claw - until now. Wanna-be ganster Sing (Stephen Chow) and his buddy (Lam Chi Chung) who is a bit dim, grab the chance and want to oppress the neighborhood so that the two gangsters finally gain the right to become members of the Axe-gang. However, this proves to be not as easy as they thought. Even the Axe-gang has its problems dealing with the residents, because there are three great Kung Fu masters among them . The boss of the Axe-gang Sum (Chan Kwok Kuen) hires two assassins to kill these masters. Yet, things get even more complicated when local landlady (Yuen Qiu) and her husband (Yuen Wah) come into play. The two are also Kung Fu masters, but their skills even surpass the level of the three other masters. So, ultimately it's no great effort for them to get rid of the assassins.
Sum has only one way out of his mysery. He orders Sing to get the world's strongest fighter "The Beast" (Lung Leung Siu) out of a mental hospital. "The Beast" ended up in this facility, because he trained so much that he became insane, eventually. Sing soon starts to question his decisions and actions. Maybe he is on the wrong side?

Review: We had to wait quite a while until Stephen Chow's next masterpiece hit the big screen. After "Shaolin Soccer" it was hard to live up to the expectations, but Chow, thanks to his well-tried formula, manages to please the masses and so it's no wonder that a sequel is already said to be on its way.
Of course there is lots of Chow's typical humour to be found, but "Kung Fu Hustle" is more than anything else a homage to the good old Kung Fu classics. Especially, the classic Shaw Brothers films are made fun of in a very friendly and respectful way. This also means that there are lots of Kung Fu scenes to be seen. And you also shouldn't be wondering when suddenly Stephen Chow becomes "The Chosen One" and his Kung Fu skills start to exceed those of everyone else. Already in his last work "Shaolin Soccer" Chow showed us that he has some nice moves up his sleeve and here he goes one better. You can almost see how much fun he had finally making his dream come true, directing a real Kung Fu movie. Naturally, not without the necessary Chow-humour...

Concerning the jokes, there are some really good ones and a few moments, where you will you find yourself rolling on the floor laughing. More than anything else the sometimes one-dimensional, but always wacky and likeable characters add to the entertainment level for the viewer. There is the chubby and trudging landlady who is always dressed in bedclothes and who makes her husband's life a living (yet amusing) hell with her dominant and extroverted nature, or there is a sissy, who proves to be an adept Kung Fu fighter - here, no character isn't odd in one way or another. Of course Chow has also his moments, especially in the scenes in which he succeeds in maneuvering even through the funniest situations with a deadpan face.
Unfortunately, there are way too many characters thrown into the movie. At a running time of merely 90 minutes everyone gets his minutes or seconds, but the different persons remain perfunctorily. Strangely enough, Chow always ends up standing in the background in favor for the side characters. Only in the last half hour of the film he gets his time on screen.

Besides the humour, there is lots and lost of action! A true adrenaline-ride, that nearly gives you no time to breath. There are quite a few fights and they are choreographed by no one else than Yuen Woo Ping, the master himself. The fighting sequences look astonishingly and there is everything you could ask for. Several fighting styles are made fun of - from Buddha's palm to the toad style, there is everything to be found here. Moreover, there is also good old Kung Fu and Tai Ji, which imbues the fights with the necessary seriousness every now and then.

At some points the brawls are quite brutal. Chow, as he did in "Shaolin Soccer", once again goes for a comic-like look and achieves this through lots of CGI-effects which fit in perfectly into the events this time. Nonetheless, it looks somewhat harsh when enemies are kicked in the air for several metres or when Sing's head is literally smashed into the ground. This looks the more savage as one didn't do so without any blood. Additionally we soon have to find out that the characters, despite their comiclike looks, are in fact not immortal!
There are some very nice ideas which did find their way into the movie and bestow the film with some fantasy-style. A little highlight are the guqin (Chinese plucking instrument) playing killers, who can create swords and skeleton fighters with their sounds. Apart from that there is lots of flying in slow motion and Yuen Woo Ping even cited his own choreography for "The Matrix" with a wink.

Technically, the movie is top. Stephen Chow is long enough in the business to know how a film should look like. He made the Shanghai of the 30s look very sprightly and some scenes, especially his introduction with his buddy are captured with lots of style and coolness. Furthermore, there are a few other stylistically great efforts and nice camera angles and movements. The music is also very atmospheric and sometimes and not without a reason reminds us of some Hollywood Blockbusters.

One flaw can't be overlooked, though - the story. It's true that this never was the strength of a Stephen Chow film. Story was merely something for him to put as much nonsense in a flick as possible. It's not any different here and it is a little bit frustrating that there are a few subplots that are not thought through until the end. For example there is the love story which somehow feels out of place, because it only gets a raw deal. Sing's sudden mutation into a Kung Fu master overnight is a little bit bumpy and respectively the rest of the movie also feels somewhat hasty. If one would have made a 2-hours movie some of the characters could have gained a little bit more in-depth and the story could have been made a lot more fluent. However, it seems that the producers rather wanted to put as much action and jokes into the film as possible. Well, they succeeded in doing exactly that.

With "Kung Fu Hustle" Stephen Chow delivers an action packed comedy, which offers great special effects, characters that seem to be right out of a comic and typical Chow-humour. Because of some story-flaws this surely is no perfect film, yet Chow once again proves that he is a master of his kind. If it's a good laugh you are looking for or some nice Kung Fu action, then you shouldn't miss this one!

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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