What more evidence do you need? Go watch it.
You STILL want a review? Ugh, fine. I’ll try to do this thing justice.
If you try to inspect all its elements, you’ll find that Kung Fu Hustle is a patchwork quilt. It’s a crime film, a love story, a surreal martial arts demonstration, and nearly a musical dance number. And somehow, it all adds up to a seamless comedy.
The main character of the movie is a perpetually unlucky (read “unscrupulous and unskilled”) young man named Sing— played by the film’s writer and director, Stephen Chow. After having any love of virtue beaten out of him by bullies as a child, Sing wants nothing more than to join the Axe Gang, the city’s largest and most powerful mob. However, aside from some petty grifting, Sing has no idea how to be bad guy and no real desire to hurt people. Sing’s continued efforts to get in with the gang set the stage for escalating kung fu fights between hardened killers and retired Kung Fu masters.
It’d be easiest to say the movie is about Sing, but I’m not really sure if that’s true. The movie is about destiny, with many heroes and villains showing up to steal the spotlight for 15 minutes and push the story along. Sing’s destiny is simply to be the guy that sets it all in motion and bring it all to an end.
But that’s really not important. Like any comedy, you just want to know if you’ll find it funny and if it’s worth your time. Again, I’ll do my best, but don’t come crying to me if you’re disappointed.
I’m told I once described the film as “kung fu meets Looney Tunes,” and that may not be far off. The movies Kung Fu Hustle resembles closest are the comedies of Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim, Spaced). The reason I say that is because they have a strong emphasis on physical comedy, carry a pure sense of parody/homage, and are not afraid to tap into the surreal. If you do not like things by Edgar Wright, Monty Python, or, at the very least, Mel Brooks, there is a strong chance you won’t like this movie.
I’m not saying Kung Fu Hustle is an all-around genius film (its characters aren’t interesting and the plot is a bit scattered), but its ability to be persistently funny is remarkable. Chow, like Wright, is great at using the bizarre to make a joke, confident his audience will hang on through the whiplash.
However, this does mean you’ll have to do some hanging on yourself. You won’t be able to enjoy Kung Fu Hustle unless you are willing to simply be OK with the insanity of what you are seeing. In other words, if you say “Wait, what?” with disgust and not delight while watching a film, skip it.
(By the way, be sure to watch the movie in the original language with English subtitles. I know it’s a pain to read, but trust me; dubbing kills the comedic timing and the delivery of the lines.)
Long and short: I give Kung Fu Hustle a strong recommendation. Be aware though, it may be difficult to find for cheap because Amazon and Google have both stopped streaming it as a rental; it’s buy-only now. If paying money doesn’t suit you, you can watch another one of Stephen Chow’s movies, “Journey to the West,” on Netflix right now. I don’t think it’s quite as good as Kung Fu Hustle, but its humor is identical, its plot is just as bizarre, and it’s definitely able to deliver a few laughs.
So listen to Bill Murray and go watch this movie. The man did Ghostbusters and Groundhog’s Day, and he’s saying THIS is the pinnacle of comedy. Just think about that.