Wednesday, June 08, 2005

[Movie Review] Hung-Fu Hustle

Once upon a time, there were movies created by east Asian filmmakers that were characterised by bad acting, bad direction, basically bad everything but for one small reason, they were extremely popular - it had reasonably "exciting" action (compared to the dishum-dishum style of fight scenes of the films of those days, these were much more well choreographed). This was the beginning off a genre of films that commonly came under the banner "kung-fu flicks".
Then came Bruce Lee and in just four movies, took the genre to the dizzy heights that it came to occupy in the minds of millions of movie-goers around the world. Still his movies are maudlin, badly acted and poorly directed (except for Enter the dragon).
A genre always tries to transform over time as nobody likes to see the same thing over and over again (Bollywood guys, are you listening?) and Jackie Chan, with his Polics Stories and Armour of Gods, created a new niche for himself by mixing comedy with action and reinvented the genre and renewed the popularity of kung-fu movies. Of course, Chan hasn't made any more innovation over the years and still continues to make the same type of films even today.
Wire-fu was the next innovation, introduced by another famous action star, Jet Li. Wire-Fu is the technique that you see being used in such films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Matrix, etc, etc.

I have never been very fond of Kung fu movies, in general but have always loved watching Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and some good movies like CTHD. Kung fu movies have become more polished over the years and are better acted and directed these days but they still need to be reinvented to keep the popularity level that high. Matrix is a case in point. It combines fantastic action with a superlative script and needless to say, it did well.
I saw Kung-Fu Hustle over the weekend and I have come to the conclusion that Stephen Chow is the next best thing in this genre. His kung-fu is of the world of fantasies and quite unrealistic but realism is definitely not what he is after. His earlier movie, Shaolin Soccer, was on similar lines where a team of Shaolin Kung-fu afficionados make a soccer team and the story is about the exploits of this team. It was brilliant because it was so unrealistic and comic. I liked it a lot and that is the reason I went to see Kung-Fu hustle just to have a good time but came out with an intention to write this review.
The film was dubbed into english and it was the worst dubbing I have ever come across. It looks like a amateurish dubbing job and I would have preferred a subtitled version. Yet, I loved the film and I think it is a vastly improved from SS. This film has more finesse and is a carefully made one too. The acting is not AStreecarNamedDesire-great but is quite good for a movie whose intentions is comedy.
It is quite obviously influenced by Asterix comix. I will not tell how but the Axe Gang is metaphorically the Roman soldiers, the leader of the Axe gang could be seen as the one of the Roman general leading one of the camps around the village and the Assasins are Caeser's men who try to conquer the village and the village itself is called Pig-Sty colony whose residents are as dysfunctional as the Gaulian village.
The movie itself looks like a tribute to the older thriller movies. Whether it is the music, or the dancing, or the maudlin performances, I cant say but each do contribute to the effect that you are watching one of those old hindi (and english?) gangster movies.
The best thing about the movie is the portrayal of the transformation of the hero from a bumbling street scum to The One (and the references to Matrix do not just end there). It is beautifully done and I loved it. It happens quite late in the film by which time, I had become extremely curious as to what heroic deed the hero does in the film.
It is a fun movie from start to finish and I liked the way it ended. Now, go watch!

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