Karen Does the Kung Fu Hustle!

by Karen Gsteiger

(Mild, perhaps cryptic, spoilers inside...)

I have decided that, to enhance my reviewer and cineaste credibility, I'm not going to make any references to the "hotness" of any member of the cast or crew of this film.


Anyway, Stephen Chow's Kung Fu Hustle is a genuinely enjoyable movie, at times laugh-out-loud funny. Not "mildly interested huh" funny or "polite ha ha" funny, but "loud guffaw" funny and perhaps "inadvertent snorting" funny. It helps if you're familiar with the conventions of the kung fu genre, but the occasionally cartoonish comedy is broad enough for all to appreciate, and the wire-fu sorts of special effects and intricately choreographed fighting scenes are suitably impressive. The movie as a whole is a lot like the large lollipop that plays a somewhat important role in the film--appealing, colorful, not especially nutritious, but leaves a pleasant aftertaste.

The plot...the plot...how to address the plot? This film is as though at least three or four movies have been smashed together, yet this does not detract from the fun and entertainment. Apparently this film was set in Shanghai in the 30's, but I only really got that information by checking out the official website. At the outset, the film introduces us to the stylish, but brutal, Axe Gang, who perform an interesting--if a bit repetitive--dance routine. Lest you think that you're about to see Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon as reinvented by Astaire and Rogers, as I recall, that's all you see of the dancing.

Meanwhile, we are introduced to the inhabitants of Pig Sty Alley, a slum ruled with an iron fist by the phenomenal and hysterical Landlady, played by Qiu Yuen, who constantly sports a cigarette between downturned lips. Pig Sty Alley and its impoverished inhabitants would normally fall under the radar of the Axe Gang until two Axe Gang imposters, Sing and his Sidekick (Stephen Chow and Chi Chung Lam, respectively) stir up trouble. Soon, the residents of Pig Sty Alley find themselves facing at least a hundred real Axe Gang members. Fortunately, Pig Sty Alley happens to be home to an inordinate number of Kung Fu Masters, including Donut (the noodle shop owner), Tailor (a stereotypical gay character who happens to kick ass, if that's any consolation), and Coolie (I'm sorry, folks, but that's the character's name...see the official website, if you don't believe me).

Meanwhile, hapless Sing and his Sidekick really, really want to become members of the Axe Gang,so they agree to various missions (with comic results) to try to eliminate the Landlady and her womanizing, often drunk, husband, played by an endearing Wah Yuen. That's probably about all that I'll give away about the plot, so that you can enjoy the rest of the film's surprises. Suffice to say that there's generally more to the characters than meets the eye--even Sing, who learned his Kung Fu skills from a worthless pamphlet sold to him by a beggar when he was a boy.

There are some surprising tributes and comical references in the film--from "Road Runner" cartoons to Spiderman to The Shining. I'm probably not enough of a cineaste to pick up on the others, particularly when it comes to Asian cinema. But again, you don't have to be an encyclopedic movie geek to have a good time at Kung Fu Hustle, which ends on a peaceful and sweet note. I mean, c'mon, who doesn't like candy?

And, in closing, I'll note that Stephen Chow is way hotter with facial hair than without...wait a minute...oh, damn.