Two Cents Film Club Obliterated by KUNG FU HUSTLE

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Two Cents is an original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team will program films and contribute our best, most insightful, or most creative thoughts on each film using a maximum of 200 words each. Guest writers and fan comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future entries to the column. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion.

The Pick

After years of building up a career in comedies that were big in Hong Kong/China but didn’t translate to much of an audience stateside, Stephen Chow crashed through the global barrier with 2001’s smash hit Shaolin Soccer, paving the way for his best film. The hilarious, exuberantly creative, and action-drenched Kung Fu Hustle is a brilliant martial arts comedy that combines Chow’s ongoing stable of goofy characters actors with classic martial arts figures from the 70s and 80s.

One note of warning; I absolutely recommend going into Kung Fu Hustle as blindly as possible. If you’ve never seen it, maybe skip this article (and definitely skip the trailer) for now and just experience it immediately.

Did you get a chance to watch along with us this week? Want to recommend a great (or not so great) film for the whole gang to cover? Comment below or post on our Facebook or hit us up on Twitter!

Next Week’s Pick:

We’re saddened to say goodbye to the legendary actor, director, and counterculture icon Peter Fonda. There are a lot of great films we could recommend in his honor — my personal favorite is Race with the Devil with friend and frequent costar Warren Oates, while The Hired Hand demonstrates his prowess as a director. As our next film club pick we’re selecting the film that gave him his most iconic role: Easy Rider, available to watch (ad supported) on Amazon Prime and Crackle.

Would you like to be a guest in next week’s Two Cents column? Simply watch and send your under-200-word review to twocents(at)!

Our Guests

Brendan Agnew:

There are good action movies, there are great action movies, and then there are movies like Kung Fu Hustle that pack a head-spinning amount of style, character, conflict, and seemingly disparate genres into less than 100 minutes and make you wonder what even the *good* ones are doing wrong.

Stephen Chow really wants you to have a good time, whether this is your first experience with martial arts cinema or your 101st. The clever inversions on “Chosen One of Destiny” narratives are dealing in such familiar tropes and the Looney Tunes influences are so broadly conveyed that pretty much everyone is gonna be in on the joke, and can simply enjoy how well the film tells it (which is “very”). But if you dig into background details or if you’ve been around the kung fu block before, it’s clear Chow is deliberately paying homage to the genre’s cinema roots. Whether he’s drafting legendary filmmakers like Sammo Hung or Yuen Wo-Ping to choreograph the fights, or stacking his supporting cast with veterans who’ve worked with the Shaw Bros. or Jackie Chan, the love for the conventions of the genre are clear even as he impishly tweaks the noses of the cliches.

That love — for the art form, its history and influences, and genuine empathy for the film’s characters — is the secret sauce that makes KUNG FU HUSTLE an action classic rather than just an amusing cartoonish mashup. Chow’s deft hand at creating just the right amount of disgust or fear or annoyance at a character without getting in the way of a coming face-turn is shown off time and again, become the thematic fulcrum of the story. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that he’s got great comedic timing *and* serious action chops as both an actor and director.

Look, if you’ve seen Kung Fu Hustle, you know this already, but as — stated above — it’s always worth another trip. If you haven’t, hopefully this will convince you that it’ll be damned hard to NOT find something you love about it. @BLCAgnew)

Ryan Bisasky:

A favorite of mine. I was lucky enough to see this in theaters in its original run and to a packed house. People ate it up then, too. It’s hard to believe this film is 15 years old.

Kung Fu Hustle has it all, awesomely over the top fight scenes, dancing gangsters and a great score. And if you’re in a mood, this is a great “cheer up” film. And I’m one who owns and only watches the Hong Kong version. It’s a bit more bloody and violent — the main addition is blood splatter when Sing gets punched by “ the Beast”.

Also I read online that the legendary Sammo Hung directed the first big fight scene in Pig Sty Ally (while Yuen Woo-Ping is credited as the film’s fight choreographer, Sammo Hung preceded him but departed the film citing health issues — ed). (@TheChewDefense)

The Team

Brendan Foley:

A giant extravaganza of every comedic and cultural whim that ever struck Stephen Chow, Kung Fu Hustle by all rights should capsize under its own excess. By the time you get to Chow’s Sing and Yuen Qiu’s Landlady having a Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote foot-chase, complete with Looney Toon sound effects and physics, Kung Fu Hustle has gone so big so quickly that the film would seem to have nowhere to go but down.

Yet Chow somehow sustains that energy and sense of invention for the entirety of Kung Fu Hustle’s runtime, rarely if ever showing any sign of exhaustion. The movie is stuffed-stupid with gags both high and low brow, yet Chow is also able and willing to pivot, hard, from weightless silliness to weepy melodrama played deader than dead straight. Characters change personalities at the drop of a hat, seemingly important figures are killed off with no ceremony, and Chow’s character Sing, while ostensibly the film’s protagonist and hero, is virtually irrelevant until the final fifteen minutes, and he spends much of that time being a proudly reprehensible doofus.

Nope, no one’s ever tried anything quite like Kung Fu Hustle. Even for Chow, it’s an outsized epic cramming forty films worth of material into one go. It shouldn’t work in the slightest, yet Kung Fu Hustle remains a bottomless delivery system of delight. (@TheTrueBrendanF)

Austin Vashaw:

Kung Fu Hustle may be the most readily I’ve ever fallen in love with a film. An experience in which I knew, mere minutes into my initial viewing, that this was my new favorite movie. I watched it three times theatrically, something I never do, and rabidly (without actually giving away any details) hyped it to my friends. 15 years later, it remains in my Top 5 and is a movie I love to rewatch.

If there’s one weakness in the film after many viewings, it’s that the first big fight, the Three Masters brawl in Pig Sty Alley, is so incredibly well-choreographed and downright inspiring that the film struggles to match that kind of greatness again. It’s one of the coolest traditional martial arts showcases ever, full stop, and it’s only through escalating cartoony theatrics and special effects showstoppers that the film continues to maintain its freight train force.

I love the film’s incredible creativity, shocking moments, brutally funny sight gags, stable of wacky characters, and myriad film references. But if I can highlight one underappreciated element of the film’s delivery, the score is incredible; a lush and moving tapestry of Chinese instrumentation that lends the film so much of its epic nature and big heart.

As a side note, on this viewing I watched the English dub for the first time, so my kids could follow along. It’s awful. Original track with subs is absolutely the way to go on this one. (@VforVashaw)

Next week’s pick:

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