LOVE is an elusive concept that can be felt but the word itself can’t even begin to touch upon what it means to you when something or someone touches your soul in a way that you can’t describe. This is how I feel about Kung Fu Hustle, one of the finest films I have had the privilege to see in my lifetime.
I can’t believe how fucking stupid I was not to see this when it premiered here in Canada on April 22nd 2005 where it played, surprisingly, at my local multiplex while I finally caught it on DVD soon after due to fantastic word of mouth that didn’t even begin to scratch the surface of how incredible this movie is. I saw the trailers and though it was just some dumb slap sticky Jackie Chan shit. Now, Police Story is my most favorite action film but that’s because Chan isn’t acting like a buffoonish clown the entire time, as he usually does (that shit gets tiring) and it feels like there’s some actual stakes involved.
But make no mistake, KFH is cartoonish and filled with slap stick buffoonery but it hits me in the feels like very few movies ever have. It’s a mindblowing achievement and so perfect in its sense of completion despite a stinger at the end that leaves the door open for a sequel that has, thankfully, not materialized as I don’t know how Producer/Director/Star/Co-Writer/FUCKING GENIUS Stephen Chow could possibly top this, the defining uber-work of his career.
Set in pre-revolutionary Shanghai, China, Chow plays Sing who, along with his buddy, try to run a con at a local apartment block called Pig Sty Alley on the outskirts of the city, where they pose as members of the infamous and vicious Axe Gang in order to get free haircuts. Sing’s attempts to intimidate the citizens of the building fail nor do they impress the Landlady who runs the complex with her husband, as the people of PSA are generally poor and ignored by the criminal underworld. Sing calls for the Axe Gang and things escalate quickly as it’s revealed that a number of Kung Fu masters live in the building as they come to the defense of those under threat. Out of desperation the leader of the Axe Gang hires progressively insane super powered mercenaries as things build to an epic crescendo while Sing tries to become a member of the gang and inadvertently learns of his own self-worth and achieves transcendence through selflessness.
The casting of the film is superb without a single false note. Chow, Qiu Yuen (Landlady), Wah Yuen (Landlord), Kwok-Kwan Chan (Brother Sum, Leader of the Axe Gang), Chi Chung Lam (Bone – Sing’s friend), Siu-Lung Leung (The Beast) all do exceptional work while even peripheral characters such as Rabbit Tooth Jane (Kai Shi Chen), the Three Masters – Tailor/Coolie/Donut (Chi Ling Chiu, Xing Yu, Zhi Hua Dong), the Harpist Assassins (Kang Xi Jia and Hark-On Fung) and Brother Sum’s Advisor (Kai Man Tin) play each of their roles with aplomb.
But I want to give special mention to Shengyi Huang as Fong, a mute girl who sells ice cream from her cart. She’s the soul of this movie and her performance is devastating without uttering a single sound and carried by her ethereal beauty.
Kung Fu Hustle is also technically sublime and ascends to a peak of perfection that few movies can ever hope to reach. The Production Design, Cinematography, Musical Score, Art Direction etc… are flawless while the fight choreography (courtesy of Martial Arts Master Woo-ping Yuen, who supervised the Matrix Trilogy/Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon/Kill Bill 1&2 among many others, and Sammo Kam-Bo Hung, who worked on the opening skirmish in Pig Sty Alley and soon after left the production for various reasons) is delightfully varied as each fight out does the last not just in form but also on a conceptual level. KFH’s structure reminds me of films such as The Empire Strikes Back and Thor where they open with a large scale battle and, as the story moves forward, the fights become smaller, more intimate and visceral as we become more invested with the characters plight which gives a raw edge to a climax that features only two people fighting it out while the stakes couldn’t be higher.
The parallels between Kung Fu Hustle and Thor are very apt as the former is not only a masterpiece but also the best non-comic book derived superhero movie ever made. But KFH works on soo many levels that it’s a crime that it isn’t revered here in North America! It crosses a multitude of genres and does all of them – comedy, action, drama – with brevity, wit, style and beauty while it completes the ” hero’s journey ” in such an intelligent and heartfelt manner that it puts trashy and cynical destruction porn like Man of Stool to shame! You can feel soo much love put into every frame of KFH and you sure as fuck don’t get that feeling from anything made by Zack “The Hack” Snyder, Jar Jar Abrams, Michael Bay or the rest of their worthless ilk who simply exploit the materials they adapt without an ounce of reverence for what makes them soo special and no understanding as to why they touch the hearts of so many. This is because they’re slithering monsters in human skin and why their movies will soon be forgotten in the trash heap of cinema history.
No matter how much pyrotechnics there are, if the story doesn’t resonate on a purely human level then all is lost because it then becomes an imitation of life that lacks the beating heart of a film like Kung Fu Hustle. I think it speaks very badly of our species that shit like Man of Stool, Dawson’s Trek 90210 and Bayformers make as much money as they do yet a truly GREAT, one-of-a-kind movie such as KFH is virtually ignored because it doesn’t appeal to the worst aspects of humanity.
But despite all of the thunder that movies provide, the best of them always have the smell of intrinsic truth. What I remember most from Star Wars isn’t the Death Star explosion but that one moment where Luke looks to the horizon while on Tatooine. That’s one of the purest moments in cinema history as it crosses cultural barriers because it reaches the very core of the human condition; longing and hope for a better world. Kung Fu Hustle speaks to me in the same way as it shows that, although we might not always be at our best, we want to believe that we can rise to the occasion and do what’s right when needed.
You know why I’m writing this and you’re reading it? It’s because most of us will never escape from the tedium and toil that we have to endure on a daily basis from which we will never escape until the day we die. Most people walk blissfully through life and don’t care about movies, seeing them as simple entertainment, a distraction. I doubt that anyone here that takes the time to post on a regular basis is a casual cinemagoer. We want to see and feel more than what life has to offer which is what fantasy is all about and why a movie like Kung Fu Hustle is like a Siren calling to the luminous energy within that draws us to it and each other, similar to how I feel after a hard day and the sight of my wife makes my anger and hatred melt away, leaving me calm and at peace with the universe.
It feels like love.