Kung Fu Hustle (**½)

Posted on April 2nd, 2005 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

So I went into this movie with elevated expectations. It was a martial arts comedy, a combination that I am predisposed to enjoy. I’m not a huge fan of martial arts movies, but I like them well enough, and I have enjoyed kung fu comedies in the past (Rumble in the Bronx, for example). I don’t really care for kung fu films (or other films, like The Matrix) that have characters participate in physics-defying fantasy fighting. I’m all for over-the-top choreography, but I prefer my martial arts to be possible under the laws of physics, even if highly improbable.

But Kung Fu Hustle has fantasy fighting in abundance, with different characters possessing different magical “styles” of fighting. In the context of this film I was okay with that conceit, but found the actual execution to be a bit cartoonish, with no attempt to hide the CGI-ness of it all. In fact, the film seems to revel in the digitality of it all.

The story follows the conflict between The Axe Gang and the residents and landlords of Pig Sty Alley. The Axe Gang members all dress like the Blues Brothers with top hats and hatchets, and Pig Sty alley is a decrepit little almost-slum that is the feifdom of the curler-haired, constantly-cigarette-ed, housecoat-wearing landlady and her limp dishrag of a husband. Our protagonist, Sing, and his partner try a penny-ante scam on one of the Sty-gians, only to find him being protected by the quite imposing landlady.

Sing’s charade draws the attention of the actual Axe Gang, and they come out in force to seek revenge on the Pig Sty. However, it turns out that three of the Stygians are actual kung fu masters with magical powers who end up fighting off the huge Axe-ian contingent. The residents of Pig Sty Alley are surprised and grateful to the three masters, but this is only the beginning of the troubles as the Axe Gang keeps raising the stakes.

The rest of the story is pretty classic kung fu movie stuff, where our protagonist must rise up to defeat his foes and fears, and face his past. Parts of it are cute, and there are some laugh-out-loud funny moments, but overall the parts didn’t gel for me.

Also, the everpresent trailers for the film use the song “Ballroom Blitz” to great effect, but it does not appear in the actual film. What a rip-off.

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