Along with Shaolin Soccer, cartoonish martial arts movie homage Kung Fu Hustle introduced western audiences to Stephen Chow's films and his uniquely wacky style of humour, leaving people in Europe and the US wondering if all Chinese comedies were THIS insane when, really, this movie was pretty out there even by Chow's standards.
Man was it fun, though.
The film sees the shady and very dangerous Axe Gang threaten a small village. As it turns out, kung-fu masters secretly live in the village so, when this is revealed, the gang is forced to find new ways to take the place and its inhabitants down. The whole thing escalates and the fate of the village soon rests on whoever "the chosen one" is. As ever, Chow mixes silly, often pretty gross characters with cartoony action sequences and brutal moments. To give you an idea, the film opens with the Axe Gang slicing off someone's leg and shooting some woman in the back with a shotgun. Much like in Chow's Journey To The West: Conquering The Demons, we start things off on a surprisingly harsh note. Luckily, things soon lighten up as the Axe Gang perform an impromptu choreographed dance number and we're introduced to the many colourful characters the film has to offer.
Wah Yuen and Qiu Yuen play the grotesque landlord and landlady who run the village while Stephen Chow plays a clueless wannabe Axe Gang member who finds himself in the middle of an all-out war between the villagers and the gang. Kung Fu Hustle certainly isn't restrained in any way: every action sequence goes as a far as possible and the film feels free to lose its mind every so often. The scene in which the landlady runs after Chow Road-Runner-style before crashing into a billboard and sliding down just like a live-action cartoon is particularly memorable but there are many more moments which stand out including a big fight involving musicians who shoot knives with their instruments, a final melée which puts Matrix Reloaded's Agent Smith rumble to shame and an epic two-on-one with Siu-Lung Leung's villain The Beast.
Kung Fu Hustle may not be perfect, its romantic subplot feels tacked-on and is never fully explored leaving the sentimental final shot feeling awkwardly corny instead of feeling genuinely heartfelt and earned. That said, the film hits all the right notes both as a comedy and a kung-fu homage. It's thoroughly entertaining from start to finish and, although it's a pastiche of that genre in some ways, it still feels completely original and respectful. Most importantly, though, it's very funny. The jokes range from just plain odd to hilarious and the slapstick is always a riot.
All in all, if you're looking to go back and watch Stephen Chow's movies, Kung Fu Hustle is a pretty good place to start. It gets his style across really well, it's a lot of fun and it's a kung-fu movie like no other.