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Hustle’ delivers martial arts masterpiece

Mark Bemenderfer | Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Stephen Chow is a creative genius. His films have a pure, original quality that is not often found in modern movies. “Kung Fu Hustle,” his latest movie, is also perhaps his best one yet.

The setting is Shanghai during the 1940s. The previous gang that reigned over the region, The Crocodile Gang, has just been replaced by the notorious Axe Gang. The sequence in which they come to power is both amusing and visually inspired to watch, a trait that defines the rest of the movie.

Parallel to the Axe Gang plot is that of lowlife thug Sing, played by director Stephen Chow, and his sidekick Bone, played by Chi Chung Lam. They are two small-time thugs who are trying to prove their own notoriety and join the axe gang.

The two try to pull a scam at a small slum complex, and inadvertently involve the Axe Gang with the complex’s affairs. From there, it becomes obvious that no one is as they seem.

“Kung Fu Hustle” is a masterpiece. The back of the DVD case claims that it’s a mixture of “Looney Tunes” and “Kill Bill,” but even that description does not do the movie justice. It is quite simply like no other movie that has come before it. Even Chow’s earlier works, while imaginative and creative in their own right, don’t quite match the creativity found in his latest offering.

“Shaolin Soccer,” Chow’s previous work, was impressive. The very notion of combining soccer with computer rendered martial arts may have seemed abstract, but it was pulled off to great effect. In a scene at the beginning of the DVD, Chow references “Shaolin Soccer” in a humorous way, giving fans of his work a treat.

The video and sound are of the utmost quality, as can be expected from a Sony Classics release. It is a good thing too, as this is definitely a movie that appeals to the senses. The sheer imagery within the movie is worth at least a glance.

In regards to sound, however, there is one complaint. Many film purists prefer to watch movies subtitled with the original language track playing. Normally that is a judgment call, but in regards to “Kung Fu Hustle,” that would be a mistake.

The subtitles are some of the worst to ever grace a video, often having very little to do with what is actually being said. The dubbing is done much more effectively, and one can only assume its closer to its source material.

The special features are also up to the Sony Classics standard, with enough to please any DVD aficionado. The commentary is good, as it contains not only the director but several of the stars giving their insights and stories about the film.

“Behind the scenes of Kung Fu Hustle” is an amusing documentary behind the movie, also starring some of the film’s stars.

There are the standard deleted scenes and bloopers as well, some of which are good for a laugh. There is also an interview with Chow conducted by Ric Myers, a martial arts film author. It’s a good way to round out the movie, completing it with some solid extras.

“Kung Fu Hustle” should be watched by anyone who is interested in films. The movie is such an unusual, visceral experience that it would be a shame to miss it.