KUNG FU HUSTLE - 2004
Kung Fu Hustle (Chinese: pinyin: Gōngfu) is a martial arts film directed by Stephen Chow. It is a humorous parody and a special tribute to the wuxia genre, played and directed by Stephen Chow. It contains most of the characteristics of a typical wuxia movie, with a lot of exaggerations, serious situations and comic plots. This is Stephen Chow's only film where the mood turns darker and serious later on.
Kung Fu Hustle film poster
The use of visual effects have been widely acclaimed and the almost comic book style of the movie are its most striking features. It is in stark contrast to recent Kung Fu movies that have made an impact in the West, such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero. Despite the computer-generated imagery and cartoonish scenes in the second half of the movie, the movie pays tribute to many famous Kung Fu film veterans from the 1970s who were all real martial artists in their own right. Many early fight scenes were packed with real Chinese martial arts. In addition, the "Buddhist Palm" style of Kung Fu featured throughout the movie is a style of Kung Fu cited by Chinese people whenever a fighting style involving open fists is used.
The film was released on 23rd December, 2004 and generally received positive reviews from critics. It grossed HK$4,999,000 in its opening week in Hong Kong, and went on to become the highest grossing film in the history of Hong Kong and the highest grossing foreign language film in America in 2005.
It is Shanghai in the 1930s. In a period of social turmoil, various gangs have consolidated their power. The police are powerless to stem the crime wave. The most feared one of them all is the Axe Gang. The gang are known to murder their enemies with axes. They also control many casinos and nightclubs in the city, bringing in millions. People can only live in peace in poor areas, in which the gangs are uninterested. One of such areas is the Pig Sty Alley, a simple apartment block that is the home of people of various trades: tailoring, baking and so on. The Alley is run by a promiscuous Landlord and his domineering and selfish wife.
The peace of the Pig Sty Alley cannot last, however. One day, 2 aspiring gangsters Sing and Bone enter. Sing requests a haircut for his “boss” Bone. Sing refuses to pay, he then confronts the entire population of the Alley. As he is about to back off, the Landlady comes forth and gives him a slapping with her sandal. Sing solicits help from the Axe Gang, who storm the alley.
Coolie fends off the Axe Gang with his Twelve Kicks from the Tam School
Thanks to the kung fu mastery of 3 tenants (the Coolie, Tailor and Donut the baker), all gangsters are beaten up and many are badly wounded. Sing and Bone are taken to the Axe Gang hideout where they are shackled. Brother Sum accuses the 2 of impersonating Axe Gangsters. 2 of his men threaten to kill them with axes, but thanks to Sing’s lockpicking skills, Sing manages to free Bone and himself before the axes hit them. Impressed by Sing’s skills, Brother Sum releases them, allowing them to join the gang with the condition that they kill one person first.
Back in the streets, Sing reveals that he knows kung fu. As a child, he spent his life savings to buy a Buddist Palm manual from a beggar so as to “preserve world peace”. The young Sing practiced his skills, but failed to make an impact in his attempt to save a mute girl from bullies who want to snatch her lollipop. Sing is beaten up and urinated on. Ever since then, he has sworn to be a bad guy. The two later take ice-creams without paying from a mute female vendor, who is startled to see Sing. However, Sing and Bone run off and escape on a tram before the woman can catch up with him.
Sing and Bone sneak back into the Pig Sty Alley, where the Landlady is rebuking the Coolie, Tailor and Donut for offending the mafia. Sing tries to demonstrate the art of knife-throwing. He attempts to throw a knife at the Landlady, but the knife bounces off the ceiling and lands into his shoulders. Sing sits down in pain, and asks Bone to throw. However, 2 more knives end up stabbed into Sing. To make things worse, the two are discovered. Bone attempts to fend the Landlady off with snakes, but the snakes land on Sing, and he is bitten twice on the lips.
Sing and Bone run off and split up. The Landlady chases after Sing, but crashes into an advertising board while doing so, allowing Sing to escape. Sing hides inside a housing structure of a traffic light, and forces the knives out of his body. His mouth is badly swollen. Sing punches the wall of the structure in rage, creating many dents and smashing the traffic lights to bits. The following day, Bone comes to see him, and is surprised that Sing has completely recovered from his injuries. Back in the Pig Sty Alley, the Landlady decides to evict the 3 kung fu masters based on the results of a lottery.
Meanwhile, the Axe Gang have other plans. They hire 2 killers who are officially the 2nd best killers, though strictly speaking, they are musicians who play the Guqin. That night, they are sent to the Pig Sty Alley, when the Coolie, Tailor and Donut are about to leave. The killers play a sad melody with such impetus that it decapitates the Coolie, killing him instantly.
Donut with his bamboo stick starts fighting
the Axe Gang when they resort to firearms
One of the killers confront the Tailor in his shop, and the fight is forced outside. This is when a fight between the kung fu masters and the 2nd best killers begin. Both the Tailor and Coolie are subdued by the swords, fists and waves that appear when the Guqin is played. As the killers are about to land their finishing blow, the Landlady yells very loudly from her flat, creating a shockwave that knocks off the swords and severs the lines of the Guqin.
The Landlord also enter the fight, using his Tai Chi Chuan, he smoothly swings the killers around, and deflects their blows to hit each other. The killers attempt one last attack with their Guqin, summoning evil skeleton warriors in the process. The Landlady responds with a deep breath and letting out a devastating Lion’s Roar, shattering the skeletons, Guqin, stripping the killers of their clothes, and sending them flying back. It is at that point that the killers flee, along with Brother Sum and the Axe Gang.
The Coolie and Tailor are dead, and Donut is mortally wounded. The Landlord and his wife explains that they had given up kung fu fighting ever since their son was killed, but they have no choice but to break their promises today. The Landlord urges all tenants to leave for their safety. Donut states that the more power one has, the greater his responsibility. His final words are “What are you… prepared… to do!”
The following day, Sing mugs the mute ice-cream vendor. The vendor shows him the lollipop she had since childhood. She reveals that she was the girl whom Sing saved. Sing simply swipes the lollipop into the wall, causing it to shatter. Sing berates Bone and sits down on the pavement in shame. He is them taken to Brother Sum by 2 members of the Axe Gang. He is now a member and given an assignment.
Sing is to sneak into a mental asylum and free the Beast, also known as the Ultimate King of Killers (終極殺人王). Despite having lost his tools, Sing gets the job done with a piece of coiled wire. At first, Brother Sum is sceptical of the Beast, since he appears to be an old man with a receding hairline dressed in his underwear and sandals. However, he bows down to him when the Beast shows that he can stop bullets.
The Beast then proceeds to engage the Landlord and Landlady, who are in the casino with a funeral bell. The landlady repeats a phrase which Sing heard when he was a boy, and that surprises Sing. The 3 start fighting. As the Beast is about to win, the Landlady smashes the top off the bell, using it as an amplifier for her Lion’s Roar. The resulting blast is able to injure the Beast. However, they are outsmarted by the Beast’s desperation move – spiky lily sticks to the stomach.
The killers prepare an attack with their Guqin
As the 3 enter a stalemate, Brother Sum orders Sing to use a table leg to smash the Landlady in the head. However, Sing hits the Beast instead. As a result, the Beast enters a rage and punches Sing, creating a dent in his solar plexus. He then slams Sing into the ground, and punches his head in several times. Fortunately, Sing is rescued by the Landlady and her husband while the Beast’s back is turned. Brother Sum rebukes the Beast for letting them escape, but is punched in the head so hard that it twists his neck, causing his face to face backwards.
The Landlord and his wife are surprised that Sing saved them. The Landlady sadly asks Sing for his last words. Sing just draws a picture of a lollipop with his blood, symbolizing his regret. However, Sing survives. With some help of medicine and bandages, he quickly recovers and transforms into a kung fu master. Meanwhile, the Axe Gang and the Beast are raiding the empty Pig Sty Alley. Sing quickly dispatches the gangsters and only the Beast is left.
The two fight, and the Beast sends Sing flying with his Toad leap skill. In the air, Sing realizes his Buddhist Palm. He takes a dive in the air, holding out his palm. As Sing descends, his arms go on fire and he is transformed into a meteor. He slams into the Beast, creating a big palm shaped crater in the ground. Just as the Beast is about to be flattened, he surrenders. Sing stops his attack and lands on the ground. The Beast attempts his desperation move, but is stopped by another Palm by Sing, which creates a big palm shaped hole in the building behind the Beast. The Beast is completely shocked, and tearfully bows down to Sing, conceding defeat.
Some time later, the mute ice-cream vendor sees a newly opened sweet shop in the street, specializing in lollipops. The shop is run by Sing and Bone. Bone shows Sing the young woman, and he walks out to meet her. The two revert to their childhood forms and run happily into the shop. The Landlord and Landlady are seen walking outside the street. The same beggar who sold Sing the Buddhist Palm manual offers another manual to a boy eating a lollipop, with a wide range of books to choose from.
Score and soundtrack
The majority of the film's original score was composed by Raymond Wong and was performed by The Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra. Early on, Stephen Chow experimented with using hip hop and more modern sounds for the soundtrack, but eventually came to the decision of using authentic Chinese music, making it distinctly different from more Western-influenced scores.
Along with Raymond Wong's compositions and various traditional Chinese songs, classical compositions were also featured in the film, including excerpts of Zigeunerweisen by Sarasate and the popular "Sabre Dance" by Aram Khachaturian.
Likewise, the scores in the movie is noteworthy which keeps you close to the holds of each scene through out the movie. Especially the Axe Gang’s group dance, the romance scenes between Sing and the mute girl, and the mid-night fight between the slum fighters and Axe Gang. With the excellent visual and audio effects giving life to the well picturised scenes delivered in a comical fashion proves a perfect flavor for a clean action comedy.
Asian and American versions of the soundtrack have been released, the Asian version featuring 33 tracks and the American version featuring 19.
Kung Fu Hustle - lollipop girl
Parodies and references
Throughout Kung Fu Hustle Chow refers to a wide range of films, cartoons and other sources drawing on traditional Chinese martial arts novels to enhance the comedic effect of the film. The housing arrangement of the Pig Sty Alley is similar to that in an old Hong Kong drama programme The House of 72 Tenants《七十二家房客》 (1973). The scene where Sing is chased by the Landlady as he flees from the Alley is a homage to Road Runner, a Looney Tunes cartoon, down to the pursuer's (the Landlady's) ill fate.
A major element of the plot is based on the 1982 martial arts film Ru Lai Shen Zhang. The Buddhist Palm style is what Sing studied from young and eventually realized. However it should be noted that its usage in the film is a gross exaggeration: It does not leave palm-shaped craters and holes on impact. Instead, users deliver powerful punches using palms. The Chinese name of the Beast (火雲邪神) and the fight with the Landlady and her husband are also references to the film, where a mortally wounded master strikes the patterns of his art's final techniques into a bell so that his pupil can learn from it. The Chinese names of some characters are identical and taken straight from Jinyong's wuxia novels. For example, the landlord and landlady are named after Yang Guo and Xiao Long Nü from Jinyong's The Return of the Condor Heroes. The book titles that the beggar took out during the ending sequence are based on famous mythological Wuxia techniques that appeared in many black and white Wuxia movies and Jinyong novels.
References to gangster films are also present. The boss of the Axe Gang, brother Sum (琛哥), is named after the triad boss in Infernal Affairs. The Harpists imitate The Blues Brothers, wearing similar hats and sunglasses at all times. When they are flattered by the Axe Gang advisor, one answers "Strictly speaking we're just musicians", similar to what Elwood Blues said. When Donut dies, he says "with great power comes great responsibility", a clear reference to Spider-Man, when Uncle Ben dies. Afterwards, with his dying breath, he leans up, grabs the Landlord by the shirt and utters in English, "What are you prepared to do?!", a nod to Sean Connery's character Malone in Brian De Palma's 1987 film The Untouchables.
Stephen Chow as Sing fighting the Axe gang
Kung Fu Hustle was first shown in the Toronto Film Festival in September 2004. It was then released in Hong Kong and other countries in Asia with significant Chinese populations in December 2004. It was released for general debut in the United States on April 22, 2005 after showing in Los Angeles and New York for two weeks. The film was released to most of Europe in June 2005. The film is rated IIB (not suitable for children and young persons) in Hong Kong, while it is rated to be viewed by people with a minimum age between 13 and 18 in other countries.
The North American version of its DVD was released on August 8, 2005. A Blu-Ray version of the DVD was released on 12th December, 2006 by Sony Pictures.
Kung-fu Hustle poster for the North American theatrical release
The film was well-received by critics, earning the high score of 90% on Rotten Tomatoes based on a total of 168 reviews. Postive reviews generally give credit to the elements of mo lei tau comedy present in the film. A number of reviewers has viewed it is a computer-enhanced Looney Tunes punch-up.
Much of the criticism for the film is directed at its lack of character development and a coherent plot. Las Vegas Weekly, for instance critcised the film for the lack of a central protangonist and character depth. Criticisms are also present for the film's cartoony and childish humor
Kung Fu Hustle opened in Hong Kong on December 23, 2004, and earned a massive HK$4,990,000 on its opening day. It stayed at the top of the box office for the rest of 2004 and for much of early 2005, eventually grossing HK$60 million. Its box office tally made it the highest grossing film in Hong Kong history, surpassing the previous record holder, Chow's Shaolin Soccer.
The film began a limited two-week theatrical run in New York City and Los Angeles on April 8, 2005 before opening wide across North America on April 22. In its first week of limited release, it grossed $269,225 (a stellar $38,460 per screen). When it opened wide in 2,503 theaters, the largest opening theater count ever for a foreign language film, it made a modest $6,749,572 ($2,696 per screen), on its way to a total of $17,108,591. While not a blockbuster, Kung Fu Hustle managed to be the highest-grossing foreign language film in North America in 2005, and it went on to find a cult following on DVD.
Kung Fu Hustle gang street fight
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