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Kung Fu Hustle(2004)
In a town ruled by the Axe Gang, Sing desperately wants to become a member. He stumbles into a slum ruled by eccentric landlords who turn out to be kung fu masters in disguise. Sing's actions eventually cause the Axe Gang and the slumlords to engage in an explosive kung fu battle. Only one side will win and only one hero will emerge as the greatest kung fu master of all.
For more about Kung Fu Hustle and the Kung Fu Hustle Blu-ray release, see Kung Fu Hustle Blu-ray Review published by Sir Terrence on July 2, 2008 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Stephen Chow, Yuen Wah, Leung Siu Lung, Dong Zhi Hua, Yuen Qiu
Director: Stephen Chow
» See full cast & crew
Kung Fu Hustle Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Sir Terrence, July 2, 2008
Back in the summer of 2004, a friend from a website I used to review for encouraged me to review Stephen Chow's movie Shoalin Soccer. Biting the bate, I decided to purchase the disc and give it a shot. I was not disappointed one bit. It was one of the most entertaining movies I reviewed that year. When it was announced that another of Stephen Chow's movies would be released in the form of Kung Fu Hustle, I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. After viewing this on DVD, I came to the conclusion this man is absolutely brilliant, in that he was excellent at using special effects and wire work in such a unique and interesting way. Instead of using special effects as an integral part of the story, he uses it to enhance the comedy, to create these outrageous scenarios that are silly and humorous, but at the same time interesting and ingenious. The movie is exceptionally well balanced, with outstanding acting, captivating music, gut busting humor, but also shows very good character development, and outstanding pacing. This movie does not take itself too seriously, but seeks to make you laugh using old school Kung Fu, silly outrageous circumstances, the look and actions of the characters, and over the top special effects.
After the success of Shaolin Soccer, Chow was approached by Columbia Pictures to do a follow up movie right on the heels of the above mentioned title. The budget was set for $20 million, and shooting was done in Shanghai from June 2003 through November 2003. The fight scenes took up most of the time, as often times what was planned just didn't quite work out when filming. The fighting scenes of Kung Fu Hustle were initially choreographed by Sammo Hung. Production suffered a setback when Hung quit after two months due to illness, tough outdoor conditions, interest in another project and arguments with the production crew. Chow immediately contacted Yuen Woo-ping, an action choreographer with experience ranging from Hong Kong action cinema of the 1960s to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in the early 21st century to replace Hung. Yuen swiftly accepted the offer. In doing so, certain scenes in production under Hung were cancelled. Yuen managed to take seemingly outdated wuxia fighting styles like the Deadly Melody and Buddhist Palm and recreate them on the screen with his own imagination. In spite of these production issues, Kung Fu Hustle went on to gross $4 million in its first day opening in Hong Kong, eventually grossing $60 million in Hong Kong alone. In the states the movie made $17 million dollars in limited release, and the movie made a worldwide total of $101 million, making it the highest grossing foreign film in North American history.
We open the film with a gang leader in a Chinese Police Station beating up the Chief of Police. It's the 1930's, and gangs are completely out of control. The worst gang at the time happens to be the Axe Gang, named after their killing weapon of choice. With the police powerless to stop the crime wave, people can only live in peace in poor areas that do not appeal to gangsters. Such a place is called Pig Sty Alley, a tenement home to people of various trades, run by a bumbling and lustful landlord and his dominant and aggressive wife
Two wanna be criminal gang members; Sing (Stephen Chow) and Bone (Lam Chi Ling) wander into Pig Sty Alley claiming to be members of the infamous Axe Gang to gain the respect of the residents of Pig Sty Alley. In their interaction with the residents, Sing tosses a firecracker in the air in a false attempt to summon his "gang", but attracts real members of the Axe gang instead as the firecracker lands in the hat of the gang leader. A battle ensues, but the gang is defeated by the martial arts expertise of three tenants the Coolie, Tailor, and Donut (Ying Yu, Chiu Chi Chung, Dong Zhi Hua).
Sing and Bone begin to agonize and discuss their failure at Pig Sty Alley, and Sing begins to talk about his childhood. He talks of spending his savings to buy the Buddhist Palm book from a homeless beggar so he could save the world. He practiced his skills daily, but when he tried to put them into action to save a mute girl from being picked on, he was beaten up, and urinated on. He then along with Bone robs a mute female ice cream vendor, and both run away laughing at their deed.
Brother Sum (Chan Kwok Kuen) frustrated and angered by his defeat hires two assassins who use the guqin as their weapon of choice. They attack Pig Sty Alley the same evening as Coolie, Donut, and Tailor are being evicted for bringing trouble to the town by fighting the gangsters. With the battle clearly going the assassin's way, the landlord and landlady enter the brawl of which landlady ends with the infamous Lions roar. That however does not save Coolie, Donut or Tailor.
The next day while Sing and Bone are on the street talking, some members of the Axe gang pick them up, and take them to meet Brother Sum. Brother Sum invites them into the gang and gives them their first job, get the Beast out of a mental asylum, and bring him to Brother Sum. After accomplishing the task, skeptical Brother Sum then hires the Beast to take out Landlord and Landlady.
Meeting in Brother Sums Casino, the Beast initiates a battle with Landlord and Landlady and is almost defeated by the pair. Landlady uses a broken bell as a horn, and blows out an amplified version of the lions roar almost taking the Beast out. However, the Beast does a trick move, and the three end up entangled in a three-way pretzel. Sing, wanting to help Landlord and Landlady is severely injured after hitting Brother Sum, and then the Beast with a table leg. An angered Beast nearly beats him to death. Before he can kill Sing, Landlord and Landlady swiftly carry him off.
Back at Pig Sty Alley Landlord and Landlady wraps Sings entire body in bandages treated in special Chinese medicine. While in the bandages Sing changes, and it is then his potential as a Kung Fu master is finally discovered. The Beast, and the Axe Gang return to Pig Sty Alley, and a battle ensues.
Kung Fu Hustle Blu-ray, Video Quality
For this being a BD-25 disc loaded with extras and an uncompressed soundtrack, the 1080p/MPEG-2, 2:35:1 transfer looks wonderful. Very nice texture detail, deep black levels, clear deep shadow depth, excellent sharpness, and a palette of very vibrant primary colors and softer earth tones blend together to create a consistently beautiful picture. All of this is used to great effect, matching the film's constantly shifting tone - cartoony scenes pop like old "Looney Tunes" episodes, heavier scenes are weighed down with grim low light effects (the initial fight between the Axe Gang and the village trio of masters), and moments of friendship are touching and serene.
There are so many demo scenes in this movie, almost too many to mention. Check out the nightclub scene with the inky blacks, neon lights and signs, and very bright warm colors all in the mix. Then check out the nighttime attack of the assassins strumming the gugin, check out the detail in the nighttime scenes of the leaves, cats shadow, object on the side of the shack all cut in half and falling down. Look at any scenes with Landlady getting ready to do the lions roar, and the detail in the visual effects of the lions roar itself.
Kung Fu Hustle Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The soundtrack of Kung Fu Hustle comes in several auditory flavors. A 5.1 uncompressed Chinese language track (24/48khz), and Dolby Digital 5.1 English and French tracks encoded at 448kbps. I chose to listen to the Chinese PCM soundtrack with English subtitles. This is a very aggressive soundtrack that uses the sound field extensively to support the visuals. The film score written by Raymond Wong uses modern orchestral instruments to mimic traditional Chinese 1940's swordplay. The quality of the recording of the film score is mixed to my ears. There is a definite "coloration" in the recording I suspect is due to microphone positioning. The mix has a far field feel to it, and perhaps the microphones were capturing a little room tone along with the music. Once my ears grew accustom to the sound, it revealed a complex, dynamic, and skillfully written score that accentuated the action on the screen. One thing it didn't do was draw attention to itself. The combination of traditional Chinese instruments and modern orchestra instruments was flawlessly and skillfully sewn together.
Sound effects are dispersed around the sound field with deadly aggression, with the LFE pressurizing the room with a chest pounding and skin messaging deep bass. Foley effects from hushed whispers to wind and swirling settling dust are clearly rendered. One of the best scenes to illustrate a great dynamic contrast is the nighttime attack by the assassins using the guqin as a weapon. From the loud strumming of the guqin to the soft slicing and splitting of the various objects (including the beheading of one of the hero tenants) is rendered with such clarity and power it is just breathtaking. Many sound effects sound exaggerated, but perfectly compliment the exaggerated visuals in the film. They also sound restrained in more dramatic moments of the film as well. Tone and texture is also expertly used to heighten the drama through the use of unusual combinations of clangy impacts, odd tonal textures, fabric brushes and water splashes.
The dynamic layering of the dialog from the lion's roar of the landlady, to soft whispers of background Walla is terrific. Dialog is always clear and easy to understand, even when the action gets going. Even the individual textures (and equalization) of each characters voice are easily heard. The entire soundtrack from the dialog, music and effects in this film are system challenging for sure, but enjoyable nevertheless.
I do have just one problem with this soundtrack as good as it is. It sometimes sounds thick and congested, as if too many elements are battling at one time for auditory attention. My speakers do not usually have a difficult time sorting out thickly mixed soundtracks, but this one gave it a challenge if I ever heard one. This is not your father's audiophile soundtrack; he is going to have to look elsewhere for that. This one throws everything including the kitchen sink to enhance the visuals, whether exaggerated or dramatically quiescent.
Kung Fu Hustle Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Starting up the supplemental material is the "TV Special - Behind the Scenes of Kung Fu Hustle (45 minutes) that starts off kind of silly and somewhat corny, but turns into a quiescent and thoughtful examination of Chow's inspirations for the film. This feature is entertaining throughout, delving deep into the cast, the writing, the direction, and the shooting of the film. Up next is a couple of Deleted Scenes, each just a little more serious than the next that do not really help in the telling of the story, but do highlight the comedic and dramatic talents of some of the lead actors. Unfortunately, the producers have layered these cuts with the same pulsing, repetitive background music that appears in the disc menu, but feels disjointed from these scenes, not to mention a little overpowering. The same track overpowers the Outtakes and Bloopers feature as well. Next up is probably the weirdest interview I have ever seen featuring Stephen Chow and the well-researched and respectful Ric Meyers, author of "Great Martial Arts Movies" and a writer for "Asian Cult Cinema" and "Inside Kung-Fu." The awkwardness of this interview was very palpable and really bizarre, however Stephen Chows sincerity and charm came through, and he managed to give great insight into how he picked is actors for each character, his vision of the film in pre-production, and the history of the older actors in the film. Last but certainly not least is a commentary track featuring Chow and cast members (Chan Kwok-kwan, Lam Tze-chung, and Tin Kai-man) that have appeared in a few of his previous movies. They seemed to be having a great time, but as a subtitled commentary, it was really difficult to figure out who was doing the talking. Among all of the laughing however is a treasure trove of information and anecdotes regarding the production and the cast. Although all of the extra are presented in anamorphic widescreen, none are in high definition, and the quality of each varies giving a rather unpolished look to the whole package. It does not however take anything away from the enjoyment factor. There are three trailers presented in high definition; 'Resident Evil: Apocalypse,' 'XXX,' and 'Underworld: Evolution'
Kung Fu Hustle Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
I have such a profound respect for Stephen Chow I can go as far to say I am a fan. His films are extremely entertaining, witty, funny, and so well done they are a must view for me. His sense of humor is wickedly funny, his eye for the absurd is very keen, and his ability to get first-rate performances from the actors is noteworthy. His films are always an equal balance of action, comedy, and drama, which makes them a very satisfying view. Kung Fu Hustle is a fine example of this. Don't bother to rent Kung Fu Hustle, go out and buy it. It is most definitely a keeper for any film collector, and an excellent value for the average consumer as well. Be sure to view the extras in this movie, they are very enlightening, and open the door to the creative mind of Stephen Chow. This release gets three thumbs up!
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