Kung Fu Hustle Review
|After three years in the making Stephen Chow Sing-Chi is back with his latest smash hit to invade cinemas after the superb Shaolin Soccer. With him he brings a trusted and well known cast (with the curious exception of Ng Man Tat and the usual Lady boy appearance) along with a stellar list of veterans, presenting a manically paced, CGI action comedy bonanza. Stephen Chow has done it again - Kung Fu Hustle is a joy.
The film takes place in 1940's Shanghai and sees a time when local towns are being threatened by the notorious Axe Gang, led by Brother Sum (Chan Kwok-Kwan). One day Sing (Stephen Chow) and his friend, (Lam Tze-Chung) who aspire to be members of the Axe Gang arrive in Pig Style Alley and pose as members of the gang, but when their ruse is thwarted they attract the attention of the real Axe Gang who decide that they want to take over the alley. Now a small community of the unlikeliest Kung Fu masters must come out of hiding and use their skills to protect their poor but beloved homes.
|Stephen Chow's homage to the martial arts and gangster genres shares many a thing in common with his past features. If you're already familiar with the comic genius then you'll be all to aware and unsurprised to learn that here he follows similar guidelines by placing himself in a situation that only he can get out of in order to save the day. While Chow does indeed pitch himself as the underdog, the loser turned hero of the piece he manages to take a back seat and allow his supporting cast to shine, in fact even going so far as to steal his thunder, which doesn't deter him in the slightest as he still manages to save some cracking and hilarious moments for himself. Going into a Chow film can be all too easy, expectations are always going to be high and it is often a wonder if he can ever top a previous gag. Thankfully he can and rest assured you will laugh out loud on several occasions. I would even say that he surpasses Shaolin Soccer in terms of slapstick and nonsensical humour, ranking Kung Fu Hustle amongst his best modern day efforts which also include my personal favourite Forbidden City Cop.
It would be quite easy to say that the stars of the film are the veterans from the Shaw Brothers' glory days and Golden Harvest's 80's spectaculars. With the power he has Stephen Chow has assembled one of the greatest ensembles to appear in any Hong Kong feature, such as Cheng Cheh favourite, Fong Hak On, "little dragon" Leung Siu Lung and even two of the seven little fortunes with Yuen Qiu and Yuen Wah, having a blast and putting in an absolutely fantastic and welcome performance for which I hope he wins 'Best Supporting Actor' at the 24th Annual HK Awards. And it doesn't even end there. With the brilliant trio of Chiu Chi Ling, Xing Yu and Dong Zhi Hua (in a stunning opening fight sequence) as Pig Sty Alley's saviours, along with Yuen Wo Ping and Sammo Hung's (who left production early) choreography you'll see some of the best fight sequences to come out of a film in recent years and not even Stephen Chow and his determination to showcase his skills matches the sheer elegance and hard work put in by the supporting members. Rather Chow is set on enhancing his sequences with computer effects to aid his comical style of fighting, which isn't to say that everyone else isn't helped somewhat by the usual tricks of the trade. I cannot say just how much fun it is to see the masters at work but I do know that I couldn't stop grinning throughout this riot.
| Where Chow has managed to succeed in delivering a great martial arts comedy he's failed at bringing us a more deeply routed character piece that focuses on his childhood and a mute girl who he runs into after all these years. As romantic subplots go this is very thin, underdeveloped and not needed, not when Chow is busy putting his time into other aspects of the film. There's no rule that says we should have any kind of romantic development in every film and had Stephen Chow steered from that this time around then the film might be better for it. There's only been a couple of instances when he has managed to succeed in this area and his most notable effort was with Forbidden City Cop where he demonstrated an amazing and wholly believable, loving relationship with his co-star, Carina Lau in what was as perfect a match up as any other film was offering at the time. Fight Back to School also showcased similarities, carrying enough weight - proof that when he wants something he can achieve it to greater effect but when it's at the expense of several other determining ideas then his space becomes cluttered and as such Kung Fu Hustle becomes a victim of this.
Stephen Chow has definitely grown as a director in the past few years. Kung Fu Hustle is easily his greatest looking film today, with its stylishly realised Shanghai of old which captures an era so beautifully, and Raymond Wong's sweet melodies complimenting Poon Hang-Sang's creative cinematography. As a note to those who might be expecting something a little more light hearted, Chow's style this time reflects his work in From Beijing with Love in that the film's violence is a lot bloodier. There are a couple of effective but nasty shots which may not sway those who haven't seen this in his other films, hitting the levels of violence that also appeared in King of Comedy. With a few twists and sad choices to be made the film becomes a little uneven in tone (and I complain only because I loved the characters), leaving us to witness certain characters pass in favour of Chow running away as a successful hero. Still, Chow shows that he has a great eye for composition, with well executed sweeping shots and perfect timing when it comes to merging everything together, with huge thanks going to Angie Lam for her seamless editing. At the end the film is still a hugely enjoyable romp and it is no surprise that it's up for thirteen gongs at this year's Hong Kong Film Awards. Good luck to Stephen Chow and his wonderful crew.
|Columbia Pictures have released Kung Fu Hustle in several additions for its Region 3 debut. Available are standard, Frosted and Leather editions, with prices naturally differing. I went for the frosted box signature edition and in all honesty I wish I hadn't. For a retail price of $32 one can't help but feel ripped off by the final product. The DVD comes in a standard amaray case, which fits inside a thin, plastic slip case with Chow's printed gold signature. The trouble with the outer case is that it's so damn hard to get the amaray out of it. Anyone who purchased last year's Breaking News will have an idea of what I'm talking about. While I never broke the case I almost could well have done as it is just too tight. Collector's editions should not be designed so that they break easily. So be careful when opening the box. As such I have provided a link to Yesasia so that you can choose which version you would like yourselves but as an extra note if you shop through this retailer you will also receive a booklet about the making of the film. This has plenty of photographs but is printed in Chinese.
Menus wise these are boring, static affairs and could have at least done with being tarted up a bit.
The film is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.40:1 which is anamorphically enhanced. The image is clean and the broad ranges of colours throughout are highlighted perfectly. Black levels are strong and detail is plentiful. Unfortunately the image has some edge enhancement, more than is necessary in my opinion but that aside I see no major defects.
Available to home cinema connoisseurs is Cantonese 5.1, DTS and Mandarin 5.1 Surround tracks. Straight off the bat I've chosen the DTS mix for this review and blow me away it did. To give you some kind of idea as to how good it sounds it is worth mentioning the excellent DTS mix that showed up on the R3 Shaolin Soccer release from a few years ago. With its similar style special effects and action the track makes full use of the surrounds in a highly impressive manner. The film's score is nicely separated, getting to really shine when the action kicks in with the sound effects beginning to work in perfect tandem - some instances are simply mesmerising when kicks connect to faces with the gorgeous tunes that play in the background. Dialogue is perfectly clean and is utilised from the front speakers well.
There is a choice of optional English subtitles and these are better than the norm we can usually expect. There are no noticeable grammatical errors and the font is easy to read, but then with Columbia behind the release it seems apparent that they've put the time in to provide appropriate subtitles for Western viewers.
I'm shocked that this release has nothing in the way of worthy extras. I can only assume that the later R1 release will have some. The fact that this hasn't appeared as a 2-disc set and that the standard 1-disc version is a bare and static affair makes this a very curious release. All that we have here are trailers for The Forgotten, Anacondas: The Hunt for Black Orchid, Suspect Zero, HellBoy, Little Black Book, So Close and Sniper 3.
|Stephen Chow has said in the past that he likes to show different sides of characters and tries to give as many as he can the room to grow more, but try as he might he doesn't pull it off 100%. With a little more time spent in developing certain areas Kung Fu Hustle could have been Chow's greatest film to date but while certain things are lesser touched upon the film is still an incredible achievement. Stephen Chow is one of the few people in Hong Kong who is currently paving the way forward with his productions, his efforts may go un-rewarded overseas, which he's tried hard to tap into but back home and to us dedicated fans he is doing wonders with his brand of humour and brilliant imagination.
Update: Congratulations to Yuen Wah for winning "Best Supporting Actor" at this year's 24th Annual HK Awards for his performance here.
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