Kung Fu Hustle is influenced heavily by classic Chinese martial arts literature and Shaw Brother films. Because of these inspirations, Chow crafts a film saturated with the magic reminiscent of the old films. Sing (Stephen Chow) is a rather inept con man, barely scraping together the money for a meal or even a haircut. While attempting to scam the residents of a slum called Pigsty Alley by pretending to be a member of the powerful Axe Gang crime syndicate, he inadvertently causes the real Axe Gang to take an interest in the Alley. But when the Axe Gang tries to move in to extort money from the residents, they find that the Alley is protected by fierce martial arts masters, living in the slum in disguise.
Kung Fu Hustle is Chow’s seventh film as a director and 61st job as an actor, counting TV. He is 41 years old at the time of this films release, and boy has he been busy. Chow doesn’t stop with topping himself with big moment after moment. He packs his film with little details and running gags that’ll keep you laughing in between the intentionally outlandish battles. If there’s any criticism to be leveled at it, it’s that Sing disappears about midway through the film to make room for Pokemon style gang battles, battles in which the powers of the combatants keep escalating until they’re ready to bring Sing back in to become a parody version of Neo. Thanks single handedly to the Wayans Brothers and all of their retarded domestic efforts, we have associated the word ‘parody’ with hack jokes and juvenile humor. Kung Fu Hustle works on a much more subtle, creative level to parody all sorts of things without beating you over the head with them.
Brilliantly choreographed and shot, “Kung Fu Hustle” is often grisly, visually spectacular and unabashedly silly, sometimes all at once. Few films remain so buoyant for such a long duration; when this one ends, it feels like it could run at top speed for another two hours. Kung Fu Hustle ultimately becomes an endearing and terrific homage to martial art films rather than a Chow-brand action comedy.
You don’t need to “get” Asian cinema to laugh at the jokes, or giggle at the intentionally zany moves. Chow misses only a falling anvil to make Kung Fu Hustle a worthy, R-rated successor to Looney Tunes. Kung Fu Hustle is inspired lunacy by design, the sort of movie best served with a hearty pitcher of beer and a big group of drunken friends. The camera is never where you expect it to be, and it never moves the way you think it’s going to. It is a perfect match for the movie itself, which is wildly funny and inventive.