A wacky over-the-top Martial Arts Movie from Hong Kong.
Short on character but long on fun martial arts, Kung Fu Hustle is set in 1940’s China, in a nameless city dominated by the ferocious, but well dressed Axe Gang.
Stephen Chow directs the movie and also plays Sing, a wannabe Axe Gang member who, along with his large but often sleepy companion Bone tries to shakedown a poor slum by posing as an Axe Gang member. This plan backfires, as the slum proves to house martial artists of amazing skill, who take umbrage at the shakedown. When the real Axe gang gets wind of this, the stakes escalate, as do the battles and combats, until the Axe Gang gets the services of the insane master of Kung Fu who has been locked in an asylum, and unleashes this Beast upon their opponents…
The characterization and plot are weak in the movie and frankly are beside the point. While Sing does have a story and an arc, its relatively slight, and his character growth, while it is there, is hard to see. What this movie does excel at and does well, as the action and the martial arts combats and the slapstick action.
Over the top, epic, unbelievable martial arts that border on the cartoon-y rule this movie. From the Lion’s Roar to the building smashing Buddhist Palm technique, to assassins who use musical instruments to launch deadly missiles, this is not a 70’s Bruce Lee Film.
The movie, too, is filled with references to American films and media, from Wile E Coyote to the Untouchables. This does reinforce the movie as simply a string of encounters and battles, but it did make me smile. There’s even a Blues Brother’s reference in the personage of the two musical assassins, who proclaim, “Strictly speaking, we’re just musicians.”
For light entertainment with over-the-top action, Kung Fu Hustle was entertaining.