Sunday, April 10, 2005

Kung Fu Hustle: Martial Arts, Tex Avery-style

You're probably gonna hear a ton of hype about Kung Fu Hustle, Hong Kong actor/director Stephen Chow's latest film to achieve wide North American release, over the next couple of weeks. Do yourself a favor and don't read or listen to any of it. Just go see it when it opens in wide release on April 22.

I'm fighting the urge to give away too many details here myself, because a significant part of the fun of Kung Fu Hustle is how it takes a traditional chop-socky scenario and simultaneously lampoons, celebrates, and transcends the genre. Literally, the less you know going in, the better. As someone who saw it at a preview screening with next to no advance info, I should know.

Despite huge success as a comic actor and director in Asia, Stephen Chow has yet to become a household name stateside. Kung Fu Hustle should change that, somethin' fierce. It's that good. Chow's proven himself an adroit comic presence, and a capable director, over the years. Kung Fu Hustle formally announces his arrival as an honest-to-God artist.

It's safe to say the following without spilling too much: The film is set in 1940's China, and is as lushly and lovingly shot as any period epic you've ever seen; the fight choreography (by HK legends Yuen Woo Ping and Sammo Hung) knocks one's socks off; Chow and company use computer generated imagery in the service of a truly singular comic vision; and Kung Fu Hustle balances subversive lunacy and sentiment as only the best Hong Kong films can.

Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon intoduced Americans to the possibilities of the martial-arts-flick as epic romance. With Kung Fu Hustle, Stephen Chow gives this country a chop-socky movie enveloped in the most completely self-contained comedic universe this side of the Marx Brothers' Duck Soup. If there's any justice in the vast jungle of the American Multiplex, Kung Fu Hustle should duplicate Crouching Tiger's stateside crossover success. Do not, I repeat, do NOT, miss it.

No comments: