Kung Fu Hustle

This movie has it all: slapstick comedy (that's right out of a "Looney Tunes" short), martial arts, and dazzling spin-kicks and arm-twists that are all courtesy of Yuen Wo Ping ("The Matrix," "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"). In this picture, which is set in 1940s Shanghai, China before the revolution, Chow stars as Sing, an aspiring gangster who wishes to join the notoriously lethal "Axe Gang." The Axe Gang rules much of the city's underground with an iron fist and their demands are absolute. But the accident-prone Sing and his chubby companion (played by Chi Chung Lam) wander into Pig Sty Alley, posing as Axe Gang members. The Axe Gang doesn't bother with this slum very much because it's so poor and plus, it's already under the tyranny of the vicious chain-smoking Landlady (Qiu Yuen), who runs things along with her husband Landlord (Wah Yuen).

Things become complicated when the real Axe Gang shows up, and the Gang is attacked by a trio of kung-fu masters who had been living there. The Axe Gang members are quickly defeated in the ensuing chaos while Sing and his companion are captured by the fleeing gangsters. The two are allowed to join, but are demanded a deed of loyalty - kill someone. For the next 45 minutes or so, Chow is off the screen, and we focus mostly on the tenants of Pig Sty Alley, as the kung-fu masters square off in dazzling skirmishes with Axe Gang acolytes, who are masters themselves. Landlady and Landlord are also later revealed to be masters too.

Chow reenters the picture and remains on the screen until the closing credits, where he, donning a white outfit a la Bruce Lee himself, takes on the remaining gangsters in a free-for-all reminiscent of the "Crazy 88's" scene from "Kill Bill." As it turns out, he is a kung-fu genius, in that he's had the power to master martial arts since birth (I must say Chow does display some impressive moves of his own). He then does battle, in the film's most over-the-top sequence, with The Beast (Hsiao Liang), who is the most feared kung-fu master of them all.

This is a brilliant action-comedy from a mind that seemed destined to bring forth something like this to the masses. The film plays out a lot like a collision between every great martial arts movie we've ever seen and then adds a heavy dose of slapstick and Chow's sly wit. You'll laugh at Chow's comedic antics, as every great kung-fu flick gets its fair share of comedy. It's just kind of funny, since I was watching "Enter the Dragon" (1973) last night, which is considered the greatest martial arts movie ever, and then today I watch "Kung-Fu Hustle," which could be called one of the greatest parodies of the genre.

Though some of the humor might be lost on American audiences, I found myself laughing quite a bit. It definitely caught on to me as Chow also pays sly homage to his heroes, both Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, who made the genres Chow pays respect to. It's all done in a deliriously comic fashion that also doubles as a visual feast for the eyes. The film also contains a rather touching subplot with a mute girl Sing once saved from bullies, and it really got to me because of the cheesy music that cues up whenever they are on the screen together.

I expect we'll see a lot more of these types of pictures that are going to be cherished by a devoted following in the future. Stephen Chow has crafted a funny, brash, and action-packed picture that's sure to remain with the masses in the coming years.