Before I start, let me note the reason I didn’t review this movie last weekend. I looked everywhere- brick and mortar stores, streaming services, back-alley pirate markets, everywhere– and I still couldn’t find a version of this movie that is in the original Chinese with subtitles. I had to watch the English dub. I hope that’s an okay thing? In the case of foreign language stuff, I usually prefer to watch it with subtitles but I really had no choice.
After resigning myself to watch the dub, my Internet cut out for a couple of days. I decided to just wait until tonight to post the review. Anywho-
Things I knew about this movie beforehand:
Huh? Nothing! I knew nothing about this movie! Check out what I found out under the cut. If you don’t want any spoilers but just my general opinion of the movie, go to the very last paragraph.
Imagine if you took the most over-the-top, ridiculous action scene from a karate movie. This happens in the second scene of Kung Fu Hustle. It keeps going up from there. By about the halfway point, the characters are doing stuff straight out of Looney Tunes. And it keeps. On. Escalating.
How ridiculous and fast-paced was this movie? For One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which was a long movie and a painfully long review, I took a page and a half of notes on my little pocket notebook. For this movie, I wrote four pages. That’s not even counting the fact that at several points I got so engrossed in the fun that I realized I forgot to note plot points.
The plot isn’t that complicated or nuanced, because this movie is about fun, but here’s my summary. We start in a police station where some dude is throwing cops around, smashing them into walls and whatnot. It’s the Crocodile Gang, and they’re trying to extort the police for money. They walk out of the station with confidence, only to find a dude with awful teeth and his hundreds of minions.
This is the Axe Gang, the villains of the movie. They all have nice suits and silly Abe Lincoln stovepipe hats and they dance around all weird. True to their name, the leader guy with gross teeth casually throws a hand-axe and cuts off the Crocodile Gang leader’s leg before killing him. The gang leader’s girlfriend with the flower dress and the camera constantly lingering on her butt is sad, so Bad Tooth Guy tells her “Go away to mourn; I don’t hit women” then promptly shoots her in the back. This makes her dress fly up for a panty shot because this movie is ridiculous.
Cut to Pig Sty Alley, a village that lives up to its name. We get some great sweeping shots of the landlord and landlady generally being lovable jerks to their tenants. The landlord hits on young women and the landlady throws a flower pot on his head and by this point I was sure this movie was basically a live action cartoon. Anyway, these two guys stroll into town with all sorts of demands. The fat guy who jiggles entirely too much for comfort is the boss of the Axe Gang, according to his associate. Skinnier guy challenges the whole village to see if anyone can beat him in a fight, but apparently everyone in this town is super tough. A cattle farmer punches him so hard he coughs up blood, an old man parts the crowd to reveal he’s ridonkulously buff, all sorts of visual gags.
But then the real Axe Gang shows up. A huge brawl breaks out and the landlady runs away like she’s from an old Hanna-Barbera cartoon, you know, doing the arms up dash off leave a cloud of dust thing. The village is losing to the axe army, but then three random old men reveal themselves to be secret kung fu masters. My favorite is the tailor, who puts metal rings around his arms and beats off gangsters with tommy guns with them. The Axe Gang is mad that they’re losing, even declaring “We’re the bad guys here!” as an argument for their brutality, but still they are no match for the masters.
Skinny fake gang member guy, whose name is apparently Sing, has been trampled in all of this. We get some flashbacks of him buying the Buddha Palm manual of martial arts as a child. He attempts to fight off some bullies who are attacking a deaf-mute girl, but they beat him easily and pee on his face. That was weird. Anyway, Sing and his brother, the jiggly fat guy, are trying to join the Axe Gang, but they aren’t allowed in until they kill somebody. They decide to focus on the landlady from Pig Sty Alley.
Sing and whatsit are comically inept at their assassination. We also get a weird scene where the landlady yells so loud it causes a wind to sweep through the village. Anyway, the fat guy tries to throw knives at her, but they keep bouncing back and stabbing Sing. As fat guy pulls back to throw the last knife, the blade stabs into Sing’s shoulder and the only thing actually thrown is the handle.
“Hey! Who’s throwing handles?” yells the landlady, so Sing comes out to chase her down. Both of them run roadrunner style, with their feet forming a blurry wheel. The chase ends with the landlady slamming into a billboard and Sing going off to nurse his wounds. Sing’s brother points out that Sing always recovers quickly from injury which serves as some obvious foreshadowing.
Meanwhile, the Axe Gang is planning their revenge! Th
ey hire two blind assassins with a magic slicing harpsichord to defeat the three masters at Pig Sty Alley. When the musicians pluck the strings the sound waves form into knives, swords, even zombies on horseback that strike at their enemies! There’s an awesome fight sequen
ce, but the masters end up dying. Before the musicians can destroy the alley, however, in jumps the landlady and the landlord. It turns out that they too are secret masters of kung fu like everyone else in this movie. The landlady defeats the assassins using her “Lion’s Roar” technique, which is basically that huge scream she showed off before.
Back with Sing, he and his brother attempt the petty crime of stealing from an ice cream lady. The girl is a deaf-mute, and what’s more, she has the same lollipop she had as a child in that flashback from before! This freaks Sing out, so he shoos off his brother and runs off to the Axe Gang. The Gang lets him join as long as he can free an old man from a prison.
So Sing breaks this guy out and he’s just an old guy in flip flops, but apparently he’s the ultimate assassin, the Beast. To demonstrate that he’s actually dangerous, the Beast takes a gun and shoots himself in the head. Cut to super slow motion as the Beast catches the bullet before it can fly the few inches and kill him. So that’s ridiculously awesome.
The Beast fights the battle couple in an amazing fight. This time, the landlady’s Lion’s Roar is even more powerful because they use a giant bell as an amplifier. Even with this advantage, however, the Beast stalemates with them as the three interlock in a triangular grapple. The Axe Gang boss with the bad teeth tells Sing to interfere in the fight, but Sing’s conscience gets the better of him and he attacks the Beast instead of the couple. In response, the Beast slams Sing into the floor so hard it leaves a Sing-shaped impact. The Beast is also upset at the bad teeth leader guy for ordering Sing to interfere, so he twists the guy’s neck around like three times. Everyone who dies in this movie dies in a cool way.
Sing’s interference allowed the landlady and landlord to get away, so they come back to retrieve his body. As he bleeds out, Sing makes his last request by drawing a lollipop on the ground with his blood. This just confuses the couple, so they decide to do what they can and bandage Sing up in a full-body cast.
The Beast comes back, leading the Axe Gang. The battle couple gave him the best fight of his life and he lives for the love of combat, so why not invade Pig Sty Alley? As the battle couple trembles in fear, they realize that Sing’s cast is rumbling. Sing breaks out like it’s a cocoon, and he’s actually not a total weakling anymore. The landlady explains that by bringing Sing to the brink of death, the Beast unblocked his chi and now he’s some sort of chosen one.
So Sing defeats the entire Axe Gang with his newfound power, mostly by stamping on their feet, but the final boss is the Beast. It turns out that the Beast uses “toad style”, actually croaking and getting on all fours before jumping into things and generally causing massive property damage. The Beast is winning again, kicking Sing so high up into the air that he can’t be seen. Sing rights himself among the clouds and then jumps off a freaking eagle so that he’s even higher in the atmosphere. As he falls, Sing becomes like a meteor and his shirt burns off, so he puts all the force of the fall into his hand. It’s time to use the Buddha’s Palm technique for realsies! It buries the Beast in a hand-shaped crater. The Beast is reduced to tears and calls Sing his new master, so that’s pretty great.
In the end, Sing and his brother are working at a candy shop. The deaf-mute lady comes up and she and Sing share an extended gaze and blah blah blah happily ever after. The end.
So yeah, the plot is weird and barebones but that isn’t the point of this movie. The point is that, through computer effects and fast-paced action, they made a movie that is a sort of love letter to the concept of weird martial arts movies and over-the-top cartoons. The jokes are fast, but not Airplane fast so that you miss them and feel like you’re being barraged with a bunch of humor to just see what sticks. I’ve now seen Kung Fu Hustle exactly one time and I feel like I got most of the gags. The writing and pace of the actual plot could definitely use some tweaking. I mean, this isn’t by any means a serious work of art, and the movie knows it, which is why it works. The action scenes are well-choreographed and the visual humor shines past the language barrier. If you like the idea of martial artists fighting in ridiculous fashions, like by cutting opponents up with a harp string or jumping around like a toad, then you’ll love this movie and you should definitely give it a watch. If you’re not into action or stupid comedy, you probably won’t get much out of Kung Fu Hustle, but personally, I really enjoyed the fun and passion in this movie.