Kung Fu movies have become something of a treat in the United States as of late. With the mainstream popularity of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon came a new market for these movies where figures move among beautiful landscapes, practicing ancient arts that allow them to float on air and dodge arrows with fluid, stylistic movements. And then there’s Kung Fu Hustle...
I think Kung Fu Hustle may be my favorite of the recent surge of kung fu movies to come to America. While I’m a sucker for the beauty of Crouching Tiger or Hero, there’s a lot to be said for the straight out, over the top comedy that Kung Fu Hustle brings with it. Like the other movies, its characters are able to perform the same physics breaking “wire-fu” movements, but Kung Fu Hustle takes it a step farther, allowing characters to run like something out of a Bugs Bunny cartoon, or receive blows with smushed faces. Heros act cowardly, villains dance in the streets, and masters are never expected to be found where they pop up. Best of all, the movie makes no apologies for how far it carries things.
The story trades in the luscious locations of beauty and takes place in and around “Pig Sty Alley”, a dusty community that would easily fit into a Chinese version of a spaghetti western. While the town is normally too small to be noticed, the antics of a lowly hoodlum, wannabe gangster named Sing (Stephen Chow) brings Pig Sty Alley to the attention of the dreaded Axe Gang. As the gang begins to terrorize the small town it is revealed the alley hides more than one kung fu master who steps up to defend the people of Pig Sty Alley. This in turn forces the head of the Axe Gang, Brother Sum (Kwok Kuen Chan), to seek out new powers to fight these masters for his side. Escalation becomes a dangerous thing as new masters reveal themselves, all while Sing tries to find his place with the Axe Gang in increasingly stupid ways.
There is very little that is serious about Kung Fu Hustle, but I think that’s its most endearing trait. Anyone who has seen Stephen Chow’s previous release, Shaolin Soccer understands what I’m talking about. Unfortunately, due to poor studio treatment, few people got to see that film, and what was seen wasn’t exactly the full version of the movie. Fortunately Kung Fu Hustle received better treatment at the hands of Sony Classics, something we should all be thankful for. With better treatment we are able to see Chow’s actual vision for his film, something akin to The Matrix minus the philosophical concepts, but with a ton of cartoonish antics instead.
That’s not to say Kung Fu Hustle is a perfect film. It suffers from some rough looking CGI at times, with obvious CGI figures and effects breaking some of the illusions of Chow’s film. However, none of these illusions is so deep that the effects remove the audience from the movie entirely. When the whole movie pushes your suspension of disbelief beyond its limitations, what’s an errant computer effect here or there?
Don’t see Kung Fu Hustle expecting to see anything that will rival other kung fu movies in beauty or grace. Instead the only thing you should expect from the movie is a lot of fun. It’s great to see a movie that features kung fu fighters suspended from strings in order to pull off its effects not taking itself too seriously and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes “wire fu” movies and is looking for a few good laughs.
It’s odd to see Kung Fu Hustle the same week that I caught the German film Downfall because, from a technical standpoint, you’d think my problems with the two foreign film’s DVD releases would be similar, especially since they were released by the same studio. Oddly enough, many of the complaints I had about Downfall are the opposite here, despite very similar problems between the two.
With Downfall I expressed my displeasure with the making of featurette, which was subtitled and poorly assembled, requiring you to pay attention to ether the images on screen or the subtitles but making it difficult to focus on both. Fortunately that’s not so much the case here, although this is another subtitled foreign documentary. In this case, the making of featurette is actually a television program. It’s assembled better, keeping what’s being said in line with the images on screen, which makes everything easier to keep up with. Hosted by two of the movie’s cast members (Kwok Kuen Chan and Chi Chung Lam), the featurette is broken down into segments, each focused on one element of the movie. The end result is a featurette that’s very informative, although at times the subtitle translation seems broken. Also a bit disturbing are the chapter breaks that happen every once in a while, offering a “trivia game with no prizes” that involve green-screening the show’s hosts over images from the movie.
Unfortunately like the featurette, my response to the movie’s commentary track is also the opposite of Downfall, where I found the English-spoken commentary one of the disc’s highlights. Here the commentary is done by writer/director/producer/star Stephen Chow who is joined by several other cast members to comment on the film. Unfortunately all of the commentary is in Chinese with subtitles (which of course removes the film’s subtitles). While the commentary provides some interesting information, the comments come so fast it’s hard to keep track of who is talking at any given time. While I’d suggest the commentary for real fans of the genre who want to catch all of the small tributes and homages that are paid in the film, for anyone else I’d suggest sticking to the making of featurette for any behind the scenes information.
Also on the DVD are two deleted scenes, which actually play as alternate takes to two of the scenes: the explanation of why two of the kung fu masters had not helped before they were revealed, and Sing’s meeting with Brother Sum. Almost all of the information in these deleted scenes is in the final movie, most of the time word for word from the deleted scene, so these two scenes are really not needed. However the inclusion of outtakes and bloopers are pretty good, although what would you expect from this type of movie?
Other features on the disc are sub-par in quality depending on your interests. There’s a wide selection of television commercials for the movie if you like that, as well as an international gallery of posters. The weakest of the bonus material is a twenty minute interview between Ric Meyers and Stephen Chow that is about and dry and boring as an interview can be. While it’s neat to find out some of the motivations behind Chow’s film, having to sit through this interview isn’t worth it. Finally, what would a Sony DVD release be without a ton of previews for other Sony pictures?
As a movie Kung Fu Hustle is a lot of fun. As a DVD release it’s less than spectacular, with some major issues with some of the bonus material. Stick to enjoying the movie, which is worth adding to your library, but leave the bonus material alone unless you’re an absolute die hard genre fan.