| Kung Fu Hustle
Directed by Stephen Chow
Written by Chow, Tsang Kan Cheong, Lola Huo and Chan Man Keung
Cinematography by Poon Hang Sang
Edited by Angie Lam
Action Choreography by Yuen Wo Ping and Sammo Hung
Starring Stephen Chow, Yuen Wah, Leung Siu Lung, Dong Zhi Hua and Chiu Chi Ling
Hong Kong, 2004
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
Screened on DVD
Stephen Chow’s newest — about a small town in pre-revolutionary China populated by kung-fu masters who are drawn out of retirement by the arrival of a criminal gang — is being compared to Buster Keaton and Chuck Jones, correctly enough, but its cartoon-come-to-life visuals put me in mind most immediately of Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen. Then again, it’s clearly a Stephen Chow film more than anything else, with broad slapstick undergirding typically impressive martial-arts choreography by the amazing Yuen Wo-ping and Sammo Hung.
By itself, the opening sequence — a near-musical set piece involving a group of well-dressed, ax-wielding thugs that come on like the gangs in “Beat It” — is pretty amazing, but the rest of the film is an ever-escalating, near-joyous expansion of the possibilities offered by Chow’s particular brand of homage and parody coupled with a willingness to try anything with CGI. (If you’re watching carefully, you might notice an actor transform into a digital double right before something terrible happens to him.)
Like the other Chow films I’ve seen (only Shaolin Soccer and God of Cookery) Kung Fu Hustle is a fresh, contemporary take on Chinese storytelling traditions, and few directors in world cinema are working so competently and consistently in any mode as Chow is in this one. A really good time.