Kung Fu Hustle

Year: 2005
Studio: Columbia
Director: Stephen Chow
Producer: Stephen Chow
Writer: Stephen Chow
Cast: Stephen Chow
Having accepted Asian cinema in all its incantations over the past few years, western audiences have lapped up some of the stars and directors who commanded the scene in their home countries, propelling them to international superstar status.

Ang Lee and the sort of poetic, fantasy-driven martial arts that made Crouching Tiger and House of Flying Daggers so popular is well and truly in the mainstream.

Jet Li, occasionally aided by wire work and CGI, is one of cinema's New Hero figures. Forget an Arnie-like behemoth with an armful of automatic weapons - he's a little, ineffectual guy with a smile you just want to pinch but who can lay down a room full of muscled heavies without breaking a sweat.

Japanese horror films like The Ring and Dark Water are virtually a genre in themselves, and almost every other country and region, from Korea (Bichunmoo) to Hong Kong (Infernal Affairs) have weighed in, many of their styles and storylines referenced or ripped off by American moviemakers.

So the world is more than ready for Stephen Chow. His last film, Shaolin Soccer, was the last one to make a splash in the West, even though he's racked up over sixty credits in a 23-year career, but Kung Fu Hustle is set to send his popularity in Australian cinemas through the roof.

First and foremost, Chow knows how to entertain. He's not afraid to make fun of himself, his movie, or us. In fact, the whole thing is like a big in-joke, scenes you'd like to see from the best kung fu movies never made.

Written, directed, produced by and starring Chow, the storyline wends it way through a bizarre chain of events concerning a criminal gang, a backwater village slum, two kung fu masters masquerading as commoners, a con artist and kung fu student yet to fulfill his potential, and a psychotic criminal sprung from jail.

Every scene is either funny or action packed, usually both. Just when you think it can't get any more over the top, it does. And yet Chow, in lifting the whole thing into the realms of fantasy, manages to treat the comedy seriously even while he has so much fun. It holds you all the way through partly because there's no telling what's going to happen from one scene to the next (or to whom), but especially because of the larger than life fight scenes.

Combining the best of The Matrix's otherworldy, no-rules environment, Crouching Tiger's balletic style and the bone crunching comic violence of Jackie Chan, the martial arts in the film are something to behold. Heavily aided by CGI, Chow is joined by Woo-Ping Yuen to choreograph the action sequences, and the result is a freakish slugfest that's impossible to pigeonhole but very easy to enjoy.

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