A weird and wild mixture of Kung Fu movies, cartoons and other elements, "Kung Fu Hustle" is a mixture of comedy and action that's mostly successful in both regards. It's probably going to be a little difficult for many to get into the proceedings at first, but once the picture clicks, it works well. There isn't much plot and what plot there is seems a tad jumbled, but the movie is quite enjoyable and entertaining as is.
The picture takes place in Shanghai in the 1930's. Sing (director Stephen Chow), looking to move up the criminal ladder, tries to impersonate a member of the feared Axe Gang in one of the city's poorest areas - Pigsty Alley. However, the people living there - including the nasty Landlady (Qiu Yuen) - aren't having it - they definitely don't believe that the guy and his sidekick have anything to do with the intimdiating gang. The Axes wouldn't normally have anything to do with the poor area either, as they don't see any profit in it.
However, a series of events brings the Axe Gang into conflict with the citizens - including a surprise resident or two - who aren't going to go down without a fight. As for the fight sequences, they come fast and furious, with fighters flying about, often aided by a wealth of CGI effects that, while fun, do get to be a tad much here-and-there. I must say, however, that the CGI is technically quite good in this film, and perfectly gets the kind of cartoonish, over-the-top tone that the sequences are trying for, such as in one scene when a character gets knocked up to cloud level.
While silly in nature, "Kung Fu Hustle"'s fight sequences are certainly not entirely slapsticky - there's definitely a grace and beauty to the choreography in many scenes. The performances also manage to walk that line between just right and too much; although the movie doesn't take itself seriously, the performers add touches of seriousness and drama to the situations at times.
Overall, "Kung Fu Hustle" isn't without some faults, but it's a lot of fun and definitely worth a look for fans of martial arts pictures who are looking for something that has some fun with the genre. Director Stephen Chow's previous film, "Shaolin Soccer", is also available on DVD, for those who are fans of "Hustle" and looking for something similar.
Although the movie is cartoonish at times and comedic, it is rated "R" due to language and violence, and is not for kids.
VIDEO: "Kung Fu Hustle" is presented by Sony Pictures Home Video in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation is a top-notch effort from the studio, as the image remains crisp and well-defined throughout, with no softness/inconsistency and good fine detail.
There really wasn't much at all to complain about regarding this effort, as no shimmering was noted, no pixelation was seen, the print appeared in fine shape and only a couple of slight instances of edge enhancement were seen. The film's color palette seemed snappy and bright, with nice saturation and no smearing. Finally, flesh tones seemed accurate and natural, while black level appeared solid.
SOUND: The film is presented in Chinese Dolby Digital 5.1, French 5.1 and English 5.1. First off, please don't listen to the English dubbed soundtrack. I'm kind of forgiving on some English dubbed tracks at times, but most are pretty bad and this one really is terrible - it's just awfully cheesy. The Chinese 5.1 presentation is excellent, and the audio is about as energetic as the movie itself, with plenty of instances of the surrounds being used to deliver all sorts of sound effects and ambience. The immersive audio presentation definitely puts viewers into the film's hyper fight sequences. Audio quality seemed quite fine, as sound effects seemed dynamic and well-recorded, the film's fantastic score seemed crisp and clear and finally, dialogue seemed natural.
EXTRAS: There's a commentary with Stephen Chow and members of the cast, a lengthy "making of" documentary (which is fairly interesting and worth at least one viewing), some amusing outtakes and bloopers, two deleted scenes, previews for other titles from the studio (Layer Cake, 2046, November, House of Flying Daggers, Kung Fu Hustle and others), an informative interview with director/star Stephen Chow by author Ric Meyers and a poster gallery.
Final Thoughts: "Kung Fu Hustle" is an amusing and largely entertaining Kung Fu flick that somehow manages to go over-the-top, but just manage to not go over-the-top and down the other side. Sony Pictures Home Video has provided a great DVD edition, with some very nice supplements, along with very good audio/video quality. Fans should certainly seek out a purchase, but others interested should at least give the film a try as a rental.
The Film B