Thursday, January 06, 2005

Kung Fu Hustle directed by Stephen Chow (movie review)

I like the Chinese movies Stephen Chow stars in (perhaps the most notable one in the Philippines is Shaolin Soccer). Of course there were two things that worried me when I heard about Kung Fu Hustle. One was that Stephen Chow was directing it (well, when actors turn into directors, I have my doubts, although there are obviously people who excel in both). The other was that it was a serious kung-fu comedy. My qualms with the latter was that Chow's previous films weren't serious although they were definitely comedic. Why mess with a tried and tested formula? But the trailer seemed great and I had high hopes for the movie. So once the Manila Film Festival was over and film imports was once again available to the public, the first movie I watched was Kung Fu Hustle. All I can say is that it's the best movie to start off the year!

First, on the comedy-side, Kung Fu Hustle is actually great. Some of the gags remind me of local comedic acts, but unlike Filipino comedy (or even anime/manga-like comedy) wherein the characters laugh or have exagerrated reactions at their own antics, this one goes on without the slighest smirk. It's a serious movie. And it works. It's the best work of Stephen Chow I've seen so far, and what I liked about the film is that there's actually less of Chow and a lot of the screen time is given to his co-actors. Speaking of co-actors, you'll see some familiar faces (from Chow's other movies) but in Kung Fu Hustle, they're taking on different roles in terms of comedy, but just as successful in making us laugh.

As an action-movie, it's also great! The cinematograph is superb and while there are a few subtle CGI scenes, most of it looks like the classic kung-fu movies. There's also a retro-feel at the start and the background music lends to that. Right now, the temptation in most action-movies is to do something like The Matrix. This movie avoids that and shines on its own. If you're a martial arts fanatic, well, can't say there are any new moves in this movie but for me, action movies has always been about style. And Kung Fu Hustle has it in spades. And it can make you laugh as well.

Surprisingly, the romance motif was downplayed in the film, which actually isn't bad. There's also a couple of twists and turns in the movie that make it different from all other martial-art films. To me, Kung Fu Hustle is like an Asian-style Kill Bill with comedy mixed in. It's unique (as a whole), it's fun, and it even has depth. What more can you ask for?


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