Howdy all you Supercultists out there on the interwebz! I’m Bad Movie Professor Cameron Coker (BS in “Stephen Chow” with a minor in “Mutha-Fukkin’ Zithers”) and I’ll be posting my hype-tacular speeches every week along with some long lost speeches from past Supercult Shows!
This week Supercult buys a pamphlet from a greasy guy in an alley (seems legit) in the hopes of becoming a master of the Kung Fu Hustle!
1930s Shanghai. The Deadly Axe Gang under the leadership of Brother Sum, ruthlessly controls the city. Meanwhile in the distant apartment slum, life goes on as it always has, that is, until wannabe gangsters Sing and Bone decide that this is the perfect place to prove themselves and earn membership to the Axe Gang. Little do they know, this boring housing complex has some very extraordinary tenants… You may know kung fu, but you’re still a fairy. Get ready for some Kung-Fu Hustle!
Let’s be real here. Kung Fu Hustle is not a movie. It’s a cartoon that just happens to have a realistic style and last 99 min. Released in the US in 2004, Kung-Fu Hustle is an action comedy co-written, co-produced, directed, and starring Stephen Chow. Usually that combination signals a horrible script, a pretentious would-be artist of a star, a development train wreck, money issues, painfully bad acting, or all of the above. Stephen Chow is somehow the exception to the rule.
Growing up a fan of Bruce Lee and kung-fu films, Stephen Chow got his start as a TV actor before being recognized for his talent for comedy, developing a trademark style, and eventually breaking into the American market with the 2002 commercial hit Shaolin Soccer. His next film, Kung-Fu hustle is a send up to the things Chow undoubtedly enjoyed as a child. It references wuxia style novels and films, Chinese history and folklore, gangster films such as Internal Affairs, the Untouchables, The Godfather, and event the Blues Brothers, and fight sequences like those in The Matrix Reloaded, Enter the Dragon, and Raging Bull. The main location of the film, “Pig Sty Alley”, was inspired by crowded apartment complexes of Hong Kong where Chow grew up, but also the 1973 Shaw Brothers Studio film, The House of 72 Tenants while the film’s score imitates traditional Chinese music used in 1940s swordplay films. Sing and his bumbling sidekick even resemble the heroes from Of Mice and Men.
Despite it’s long list of allusions and citations, Kung Fu Hustle is not a complex film. It’s simply absurd. The action has almost no basis in reality, having more in common with anime or super hero comics than traditional martial arts. One of the more obvious sources of inspiration is animation (especially the physics defying hijinks of Looney Tunes shorts). CGI provided by the Hong Kong based Centro Digital Pictures, veterans of both Shaolin Soccer and the Kill Bill movies, and wire work add a generous helping of ludicrous visuals to both the super powered fights and comedy sequences. In one sequence Sing runs from the angry landlady and the chase quickly devolves into a stylized farce, the character’s running at hyper speed, passing cars on the open road, their legs accelerating into a Sonic The Hedgehog-esque blurs of color. Though the comedy teeters wildly from the childish to the obscure, the film never loses focus of its singular goal: to be crazily, gleefully, relentlessly entertaining from start to finish.
The film is assisted in this mission by some prolific Hong Kong action starts from the 70s. Yuen Wah, who appeared in over a hundred Hong Kong films and was even a stunt double for Bruce Lee for a time, plays the Landlord of Pig Sty Ally, while Bruce Leung, Chow’s childhood martial arts hero, plays the Beast. On the other hand Yuen Qiu, who did not audition for the film, was spotted during her friend’s screen test smoking a cigarette with a sarcastic expression on her face, which instantly won her the role as the Landlady of Pig Sty Ally. Little did they know, Qiu was a retired actress who had played a part alongside Roger Moore in “The Man with the Golden Gun.” Kung Fu Hustle was her return to acting after 19 years.
Underneath several layers of kookiness Kung Fu Hustle has a solid narrative core. Chow was inspired by his childhood ambition to become a martial artist. In the story Ling spends his life savings on a scam martial arts manual after failing to protect a little girl from bullies. Disillusioned and struggling to survive, the boy turns away from his dreams of being a hero, and instead tries to join an organized crime gang. In truth, Chow’s character, Sing, spends most of the movie as a secondary character in his own story, a perpetual loser sitting on the sidelines while much cooler people duke it out on the big stage. It’s only after Sing rediscovers his original calling, that he is able to become the hero.
Kung Fu Hustle is a film that immediately strikes you as a guilty pleasure, a movie that you have to nervously pitch to your discerning friends and family members…until you realize that it’s widely considered a new classic of the genre. Kung Fu Hustle has a 7.8 on IMDB and a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. It was nominated for 16 Hong Kong Film Awards out of which it won Best Picture, Best Action Choreography, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Effects, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Visual Effects. It went on to win five more at the Golden Horse Awards, including one for Best Director.
Roger Ebert called it “Jackie Chan and Buster Keaton meet Quentin Tarantino and Bugs Bunny” and in a GQ interview, actor Bill Murray called it “the supreme achievement of the modern age in terms of comedy.” Though many critics maligned the film’s lack of character development and a coherent plot, Jim Vorel of Paste Magazine writes, “it’s a film that some will dismiss off-hand, but Chow’s style has always and will probably always be ‘entertain first, make sense later.’ That’s what he does, and he does it better than anyone else.”
Kung Fu Hustle will probably be remembered as Stephen Chow’s most well regarded films as both a director and an actor, but it’ll forever enshrined as the first Stephen Chow film to be inducted into the Supercult archives!
I mean, what other movie mixes dancing axe murderers and magical zithers with evil martial arts toad people and lollipops?
The Supercult Show is proud to present Kung Fu Hustle.