I’m not normally a martial arts movie afficionado but an old friend was staying at “The Compound” and he took advantage of a Netflix account to watch quite a few of them. One of those films was a movie from 2004 called Kung Fu Hustle and because of the fantasy aspects of the film I decided I could stretch a definition and do a review here.
First of all, this movie is in Chinese with subtitles. As far as a genre I guess you could call it a martial arts fantasy comedy. So, if any of those categories aren’t for you then you should skip this movie. Stephen Chow is the producer, director, writer and star.
It is 1930’s Shanghai. Chow plays Sing, a young man who has become disillusioned with the world because of his attempt as a child to defend a poor mute girl named Fong from some bullies. He tried using the Buddhist Palm fighting style that he had learned by reading a pamphlet that he bought from a beggar. But he was beaten badly and because of this experience when he grows up he decides to turn to a life of crime. He attempts to shake down some poor people by telling them he is part of the dreaded Axe Gang that rules the city through violence and terror. When the peasants beat him up instead, he signals for the real Axe Gang and an epic battle ensues between the scores of Axe gangsters and the poor people of Pig Sty Alley. As it turns out three of the peasants are coincidentally kung fu masters. Behind their leadership the peasants defeat the gang.
Now Sum, the leader of the gang captures Sing and promises to kill him after the gang war is completed for causing such a terrible rout of his men. But by some mysterious skill Sing escapes. Meanwhile Sum hires two magical harp players. Apparently, their music generates flying knives and using these they kill the three kung fu masters. Now we meet up with two of the comic characters of Pig Sty Alley, the Landlord and his shrewish wife. They also turn out to be kung fu masters and they avenge the slain men and defeat the harpists.
Meanwhile Sum decides that Sing can be a valuable tool because of his abilities as an escape artist. He hires him to free a man called the Beast from an insane asylum. He does this and, of course, the Beast is a kung fu master and a dangerous lunatic. He attacks the Landlord and Landlady and fights them to a draw. Sum orders Sing to help the Beast kill the husband and wife but Sing has a change of heart and attacks the Beast. The Beast pummels the young man to a pulp and the Landlord flees with his wife and Sing’s unconscious body.
Somehow the tremendous beating triggers some kind of magical transformation in Sing and he not only completely regenerates but acquires the skills of, you guessed it, a Buddhist Palm kung fu master! He squares off against the entire Axe Gang and the Beast. After a titanic battle that involves flying through the sky and invisible forces that can knock down buildings, he defeats the Beast who then begs to be allowed to be Sing’s pupil. Finally, in the last scene Sing meets up with Fong who is now an ice cream seller and I guess they live happily ever after.
You’ll probably say this is a ridiculous plot and it is. But the action scenes are very well done, the comedy is funny and the story keeps your attention. The martial arts scenes are somewhat reminiscent of the choreographed fight scenes in the Matrix. If you aren’t completely opposed to a movie in this genre then I’d highly recommend you give this one a look.