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Kung Fu Hustle (2004)

October 20, 2010

9/10 Ballroom Blitzes

One of the most overlooked and under-appreciated movies of the last decade. At least Bill Murray knows what I’m talkin’ about.

Kung Fu Hustle is about a wannabe tough guy who tries to muscle his way into a notorious gang of killers by throwing his weight around the slums of China and intimidating barbers into giving out free haircuts. In doing so, he ends up unearthing the identities of several kung fu masters who utterly demolish the said gang of killers. Naturally, the gang of killers (alright, let’s just call ’em the Axe Gang) don’t take this ass-whupping sittin’ down, so they seek out one kung fu legend after another in an effort to regain their street cred, take over the slums and ultimately snuff out the one guy who started this whole mess in the first place.

Ah, 2004. A year best remembered for bringing us Eternal Sunshine, Million Dollar Baby and the Jane Austen timeless classic, White Chicks. It was a good year, that 2004, and it was also the fine year I discovered this little gem that I dragged my barely-willing roommates to and still love like a brother to this day. There’s a weird sense of pride that probably comes off more like a “please believe me” shame when I re-read that last sentence, and as much as I’ve gotten used to everyone screaming in my face and punching me in the mouth every time I plug this, it’s a comfort to know that the joke’s on them.

So, I like kung fu movies, not like the Wu-Tang Clan or anything, but I dug Enter the Dragon, I happen to think Sonny Chiba’s one bad motherfucker, and there really is something totally sweet about Jackie Chan from back in the day. Wish I had more than a stock opinion on the matter, but my problem with kung fu movies is that they’ve never been a whole lot more than lip-dubbed, slap-fests. Granted, sometimes all I want to do is pick up a six pack and watch people get their ass beat by pros, but with the exception of Crouching Tiger and Hero (neither of which am I a big fan), the formula seems to have gone pretty unchanged over the years.

And then, hot off the effing gratuitous success of Shaolin Soccer, comes writer/director/actor/dentist/astronaut Stephen Chow who changes all that punch, kick, repeat noise in one bizarro fell swoop. Like any good Bruce Lee worshiper, he keeps everything that works and throws something, like, 400 goddamn fight scenes into the mix, and that’s all as awesome as can be, but then he really shakes things up by also turning it into a ’50s gangster joint, a Three Stooges comedy and live-action Looney Tunes special.

Please bear with me. I swear it’s good.

Speaking of Enter the Dragon, you know that bonecrushing scene where Bruce Lee kicks Han (the dude with the claw) in the head so hard that, had it not been a dummy, his brain would have instantly exploded like a fucking melon? Well that’s pretty much every single second of every single fight scene here, minus the implied gore, and that’s as tame as it gets, too. This baby hits hard, it hits like Iron Mike in his ear-bitin’ days, and while all the choreography is completely outrageous and entirely unbelievable, it’s supposed to be, and it’s a blast. Thugs getting their feet power-stomped into flapjacks, landlords who moonlight as Plastic Man and a human bullhorn, slide guitarists who lop heads with their deceptively pleasant riffs, and a mental patient who can stop bullets between two fingers/turn into a human toad when he’s really, really pissed are just some of the more interesting individuals that continually keep each scene awfully damn fresh.

Although the weird thing is that it’s actually that music which brings it all together so well. The score during the more memorable of beatdowns is entirely made up of rapid-fire Oriental string instruments that’s constantly escalating and ratchets up the excitement like no other, and though I don’t know why it took me so long to pick up on it, it’s absolutely the linchpin that holds it all in place. No idea what to call this kind of music since it’s not exactly jamming up my iTunes at the moment, but it’s recognizable, it totally works wonders and the change in tone is very noticeable when it’s not around.

But this is all about Chow, people, and he’s a man of many talents.

As a writer, he’s a riot, his onslaught of physical and verbal gags are bottomless and he moves this baby along at a gorgeous pace to boot. As a director, I guess he’s a little rough around the edges, but the crazy ideas he brings to life in ways no one’s ever thought of more than makes up for it. And as an actor, he is so on point. He plays our street rat antihero, Sing, and even though he’s a dick on the exterior, he’s hard not to like since he’s trying so darn hard and each time fails even harder. His character arc is pretty predictable, but whatever, it’s epic, and that’s what counts here.

Real shame that he ducked out of co-starring in and directing The Green Hornet. Nothing against Michel Gondry, but I’m hungry for that Chow. God, that was lame…

Folks, I’m all about Kung Fu Hustle. I’m not gonna go so far as to call it as imaginative as Eternal Sunshine, but in a totally different way, it’s kinda there. This is some pure, original fun with a surprising amount of heart and a whole lot of awesome that still makes me laugh hysterically and smile like gangbusters a handful of viewings later. Just a mish-mash of everything that shouldn’t work at all, but thanks to gung-ho “Why not?” attitude that never stop and turns it up to 11, it sure pays off if you’re all for the new and different.

And as for the whole Bill Murray thing, here’s a recent GQ interview where he call this ”the supreme achievement of the modern age in terms of comedy,” and that, “There should have been a day of mourning for American comedy the day that movie came out.”

Bill Murray said that. Bill-fucking-Murray.

I rest my case.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. October 20, 2010 1:01 am

    Kung Fu Hustle is an absolute riot! More people need to see this movie as I completely agree with you that it is one of the most overlooked film of the last decade. It’s funny, original, and flat out a great time. Great review Aiden!

    • October 20, 2010 1:32 pm

      haha. thanks, man! glad you’re in the know, now let’s just work on getting everyone else on board.

  2. October 20, 2010 3:40 am

    Brilliant, brilliant film. Just pure excitement from start to finish, and should indeed be seen by everyone! Nice review.


    • October 20, 2010 1:33 pm

      Thanks! I completely agree, should be more popular than Crouching Tiger and Hero combined. Someday…

      And thanks for visiting!

  3. October 20, 2010 8:20 am

    I Loved Kung Fu Hustle and can never remember the name to make people go see it. Terrific flick that’s pretty original.

    • October 20, 2010 1:33 pm

      Haha. Never forget Kung Fu Hustle, get it tattooed or something. Very glad you dig it so much.

  4. October 20, 2010 5:57 pm

    Great film. Totally unappreciated in its time!

    Also, Happy Birthday… punkass! 🙂

    • October 20, 2010 6:04 pm

      hahaha. thanks, man. nothing goes with birthdays quite like kung fu hustle.

  5. October 21, 2010 6:54 am

    Awesome film. To have someone of Bill Murray’s stature come out and say what he did: brilliant.

    • October 21, 2010 1:10 pm

      You said it, man. Might sound like crazy talk to some, but if anyone knows what’s up, it’s Bill Murray.

  6. October 21, 2010 5:03 pm

    I wouldn’t say this film is under appreciated, its usually regarded as Chow’s best work, although you are probably referring to the everyday American movie goer. In that case, I agree. Great review and also, the deal is dead now, but newegg was selling this film and Jet Li’s the one for only $3 BOTH on bluray. For $1.50 a piece it is an absolute steal.

    • October 21, 2010 5:06 pm

      Damn, that’s a freakin’ steal if there ever was one. I’m not on newegg, I really should be. Already have this on bluray though, and I don’t think I’d ever watch The One, so I’m alright missing out. Thanks for the heads up though and glad you dig this too.

  7. October 21, 2010 7:32 pm

    This movie is soooooo effing great. I actually saw it in the theater. Now go watch Shaolin Soccer!
    I wish Steven Chow would’ve got the part in the Green Hornet. That movie will suck but at least he might start doing films over here.
    PS. I think the 9 out of 10 is totally earned.

    • October 21, 2010 7:37 pm

      hahaha, glad you agree with the 9, LOVE that it seems like everyone else does too. and I actually have seen Shaolin Soccer. didn’t like it as much as I did this, but still freakin’ awesome. and Green Hornet probably will suck, those trailers didn’t do anything for me, but I’ll still probably see it being the Gondry fanboy I am.

  8. October 24, 2010 12:38 pm

    Despite my obsession with Hong Kong movies, I actually haven’t seen this. I was never a big Stephen Chow fan back in the day, but I’ve heard so much good about this that I think I’m gonna have to give it a shot.

    I love Bruce Leung so I’m eager to see him in this. He was phenomenal in the recent film Gallants, which I wholeheartedly recommend!

    • October 25, 2010 2:45 pm

      Dude, Leung is AWESOME. Will definitely check out Gallants. You gotta see this, man. Effing great stuff.


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