Kung Fu Hustle

The first kung – fu movie that I watched back in the 70’s was called ” Karate, The Superior Youngster” and it’s  first scene begins like this:

 GANGSTER: (from the top of the cliff)

” Karate , come and kiss my feet ! “

KARATE ( from  the bottom of the cliff )

“Why don’t you kiss mine!!?”

GANGSTER ( to the gang of a 120 strong ) :

” Get him! “

KARATE ( the name of the character ) jumps at top of the cliff and exterminates  the gang using only leg kicks, hands in his pockets.  Kung- fu movies are based on a simple premise :



If you are not willing to accept this , you’ll have a problem watching  them .

With the exception of Bruce Lee ( who caused the explosion of the genre in 1960’s), Jackie Chan (who injected  elements  of comedy  into the genre and turned the bloodshed  into a cheerful circus) and Jet Lee  who brought back “dignity ” to the genre using serious technique and virtuosity, kung fu film has always been considered  as a  trash product for “low educated audience”.  Not without reason: level of acting and the simplicity of the plot were almost repulsive for the” literate” audience.

Motive for action was almost always revenge – in best cases  revenge with the moral stirrings: student sanctifies the murdered teacher  or  “face washed ” kung fu school -oppressed by  participants of competitor  schools or Japanese invaders . The overproduction of cheap kung fu movies (1965-2000), have always had  the same insignia : bad acting by the stunt actors, cloned costumes for the “extras” and almost always the same over-saturated costumes for the “noble warlords”.

In the year of the Lord 2000, kung – fu film called “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon ” received several Academy Awards   and the genre received  its legitimacy and high budgets. “Crouching Tiger…….”  in it’s basic  form protégées  exactly the things  that  the “literate audience” can not stand : His heroes know how to fly.

But instead of flying in combat , they fly as cranes – in a rapt romantic fervor . Everything  that was done “too quickly” in a standard kung-fu movie  ( to prevent wire ” tricks ” and ” frauds”  to be seen ) here is extended  ” to the bone ” thanks to the CGI.  Thus, all kinetic elements – slow motion, flapping capes, cloaks and curtains , waltz of saturated colors – get an  aesthetic value.  So much,  that the film was declared  the “ Fine Art” movie .

What ensued had the opposite effect :

Producers of Hong Kong, believing that ” ballet ” had sold the film and won Oscars, started to throw  out a bunch of high budget baloneys  like ” House of Flying Daggers”,  ” Three Kingoms ” and the like, with a lot of ballet choreography in the fighting  scenes , heavy  quasi – philosophy , meaningless plots  and mental stretching scenes .  The stretched the epic scenes , the better for the Oscars , so they guessed.

Kung fu movies were  turned into the sheer boredom with over-dosed  computer  effects. Forgotten was  the simple fact that  “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon”  was  essentially a love story, just like “Titanic” and   “Avatar”.  Without direct love and romance they would be probably unwatchable .

The “genre”  is a set of conventions in the story, design, lightning, framing, characters  and  rhythm respectfully. If porno film does not cause libido, means  it ‘s a bad porno . If comedy does not make you laugh but sleepy, it’s not a comedy and  assumingly has a rhythm and design of a drama but  not of a comedy .

What separates the genre movies from so called “author” films is that the latter ones are trying NOT to be handled by conventions, but to have more  “private” angle of presenting things )

” Crouching Tiger ” is to some extent  “authorish” approach to genre ( as some of Brian De Palma films) and the result of it’s influence  is that  the old kung fu movies are no longer watchable because of their stereotype , and the recent ones (after 2000) are self  pretentious with over-complicated plot and very often – a  boar .  After 2000, Kung – Fu became a  genre with too  much of a “serious” attitude.

But, not all of them: Yesterday I rescreened  my favorite movie of  2004, KUNG FU HUSTLE,  and I started to scream- laughter even on the opening  scene:

In the waiting room  of the police station camera pans over  the frighten sitting persons and  duty officers. We  hear  the screams off camera. We see  a  hanging table with a written moto “Law and Order ” , through which body  of a beat-up policeman  smashes through . The camera goes to the police chief who is also shaking with fear. The local  GANGSTER  in a cheap hat shouts at him:


” Anybody else ?!  Huh ?! “


GANGMAN:  (to the police chief, word by word )

” Just because she spat on the street , you checked this Lady in! (pointing to a whore in a white dress) Is there  any law here?!  Where is the law?! Where is THE STATE?! “

Cops  sweat .


The gang called “Axes ‘ (they have axes tattooed on their  chest ) is extorting the whole town – except the area  called  “Pig Dump ” where the poorest  of the poorest live, with no money to pay any racket  to anyone. But here are two dumb guys who are trying to extort money out of them and mob the “Pig Dump”: the film director Stephen Chow , who plays the lead role of a coward and a fraud  with his fat friend. The problem occurs when the AXE gang realizes that the dumb duo is racketeering in their name and they decide to waste them. Then it turns out that the whole of  “Pig Dump” inhabitants, starting with a fat landlady with a cigar, a local  barber and a baker are all  top  kung – fu maniacs . Choreography full of surprises, speed and humor starts from that point on.

Stephen Chaw is an eastern Sergio Leone , Quentin Tarantino, Groucho Marx , John Milius , Bob Foss and Stanley Donen at the same time . Sergio Leone in the milieu and style ,  Milius in epic exaggeration , Groucho Marx  in completely screw -ball approach to comedy, Stanley Donen and Bob Fosse in amazing choreography  and Quentin Tarantino in a nostalgic playing with the genres. In addition, Jackie Chan and Buster Keaton at the same time.

I have not seen a movie that is so succcessful  a mix of styles and still has its own style . When you’re doing comedy , it’s very difficult to keep the tone of the gags , especially in acting and  mise–en-scene,  a tone that is always on the verge to go tofailure , but still floats  fresh and chic. You even laugh at the graphic effects .  I can imagine what the reaction was in the cinemas, when the audience was mass “lifted” after a couple of good jokes and than startto laugh at each and every tiny antic.

See once this movie or download it from the net – be sure that it is in Chinese  with the translation.  Dubbed versions (translated into English ) will not do .

This film has the same value for Kung Fu genre  as  “Once Upon a Time in the West” has for  the “spaghetti western”, as “Singing in the Rain” has  for the musical , as ” A Night at the Opera ” has for screwball comedy , as  “Meals on wheels ” has for the action movies – the best that genre can offer.

For P.U.L.S.E World: Mustafa Presheva

You must be logged in to post a comment Login