Sunday, July 8, 2012

Kung Fu Hustle - Good clean axe whippin' fun!

What do you watch when you want that good old Kung Fu movie classics feel, but want a modern story line?


And that is exactly what we did this past week at PiTN.

Kung Fu Hustle is a 2004 Stephen Chow release. Not only did he direct the film, he co-wrote it with Man Keung, Xin Huo, and Kan-Cheung Tsang.

And, if that didn't make him cool enough, he plays the lead role in the film as well... at the age of 42... and, let's just be honest right here, right at the beginning of the film. He doesn't look 42. His physique is amazing, and he has nary a wrinkle, blemish, or single gray hair.

I wanna look that great at 42!!!
Ok, but seriously... let's talk about this film.

Our story takes place in 1940's Shanghai. This is a significant historical note in that China was in turmoil at the hands of that Japanese, just prior to the second Sino-Japanese war. We're talking poverty, corrupt government, and the rise of organized crime.

And this my friends is where our story begins.

Our film opens to a "scene" taking place in the local police station. A strangely clad Chinese version of Wild Bill Hickock circa 1940 is shouting at the police about who he is, their ignorance, and the fact they they have arrested his wife. And, after seeing his wife you wonder what she was thinking when she agreed to be hitched to this rotten toothed dude who tucks his pants INSIDE of his western style boots.

No matter. The wife gets released, all the bad guys feel tough, and they all walk out onto a completely silent street ready to party the night away. Oddly quiet though. Suddenly, they realize that something has gone awry as there is not a soul on the street and the police bustle from door to window to door to quickly barricade themselves inside. What the... mysteriously they are entirely surrounded by the infamous "Axe Gang". An argument, some begging, a flying axe, a missing leg, a bad guy with nasty opium teeth, and a shotgun blast later we are introduced to perhaps THE MOST ENTERTAINING opening scene ever in existence. Seriously. Check it out:

Now, we would like to insert a small reference note here. There are some sources that confirm the actual existence of said "Axe Gang" between 1920-1940. They have also appeared in several martial arts movies and are somewhat of an urban legend. The sort of stuff that makes kids go to bed on time.

Yu Xing as "Coolie"

OK, so the story...
We now find ourselves outside the entrance of one of the local slum communities, called "Pig Sty Alley". It's pretty low-tech. There's whimsical Chinese flute music, children in period clothes running around, people standing in line for their water ration, and... wait...

OH MAN!!! 
(And the movie suddenly became about 37% cooler)

This scene is all about meeting the characters and learning about the lifestyle of the period. Let's see... you have:
Coolie - He is what he sounds like
Fairy - The Gay Tailor
Donut - The Noodle Vendor
Rabbit-Tooth Jane - the homely R.H.M. (Red Hot Mama)
The Barber - the skinny butt of the joke... LITERALLY
The lecherous Landlord
The hilariously hostile Landlady

Our "butt" is in line for water (in the public square) so that he can brush his teeth and bathe, even though they have a restroom and shower area. Coolie is carrying stupidly large amounts of stuff. The lecherous landlord is hung over and getting free noodles from Donut the noodle vendor. Jane is at the tailor's in a negligee. The landlord makes his rounds, flirts with everyone... a pretty normal slice of life scene. Then, out of nowhere, the water shuts off and "butt" is left half soaped... and half naked. And, what does any reasonable person do when standing naked in the public square his of her slum??? He shouts up to the landlady to fix the problem.

What a brave woman...

And so we meet Landlady. Cigarette-danglin', flip-flop face-smackin', insult-slingin' Landlady. She runs a tight ship and don't take no CRAP from nobody. She slaps the half-naked Barber kid into place, insults everyone else in the square of her insignificant little tenement, and pushes Landlord out a window for good measure (he's fine, really). And now that we've met our fabulous little cast of colorful characters, things really get rolling.

So these two good-for-nothings show up out of nowhere... Sing (Stephen Chow) and his sidekick Bone. They try to pass themselves off as members of the Axe Gang, blackmailing The Barber for money, but soon realize they are in over their heads when the whole damn town turns out to be trained in some kind of fabulous fighting skill, including the 9 year old with the Schwarzenegger-sized guns. He finds himself in even deeper doodoo when the actual Axe Gang shows up and Sing somehow manages to blow one of them up (well, sort of... singe his hair anyway) with a rogue firecracker.

Landlady, being the macho woman that she is, barricades herself in her apartment and lets the townfolk handle the Axe Gang for the time being. Before anyone knows what in motherland of Abraham Lincoln is going on, someone has stuffed the Axe Gang Expedition's leader in a barrel, the Axe Gang members have called for backup, and pretty soon the swarms of axe-wielding, top hat sporting men have us starting to suspect that we have been dropped headfirst into some kind of Monopoly convention.

WHEW... if only he didn't have such terrible teeth.
And wasn't... you know... a bad guy.
With all of the other silly looking bad men comes Brother Sum. We met him earlier, he's the fabulous dancer with the opium teeth. He wants to know who stuffed his advisor in a barrel, so rather than just asking, he douses a couple of innocent people in kerosene and tosses a lighter at them in hopes of invoking a response. Because that's an entirely rational way of approaching the situation.

But wait! Here comes Coolie! He swoops in, catches the lighter, and starts busting totally insane kung fu moves all over the place! And wait, wha? Hold the phone! Did Fairy the Tailor really just throw some axe-slinging maniac 30 feet out a plate glass window?? And holy crap did Donut the Noodle Dude really just take out 40 guys with a really, really big stick?? Well, ok, it's a staff, not a stick, but you catch my drift. What just happened here??? How is it that these three random guys from the slums suddenly possess a whole new brand of badass awesome?

We don't get to find out just yet. BUT... they do beat the bejeezus out of the entire Axe Gang, who pick up Sing and Bone as consolation prizes and run off to lick their wounds. They eventually let Sing and Bone go though, when they realize that Sing can pick a lock faster than they can swing an axe. Useful types to keep around, those worthless scoundrels. Brother Sum tells Sing to go kill someone to prove that they are worthy of being members of the Axe Gang, and off they go.

While looking for a lollipop image from
the film to put here, I got entirely
distracted by these adorable earrings
on I can has some plz?
Now here's where things get really deep. Sing and Bone are tooling around town, and Sing is giving Bone a lecture about how to live life, seize opportunities, be tough. When Bone asks Sing if he is really going to kill someone, Sing tells Bone that he knows Buddhist Palm Kung Fu, and launches into this crazy flashback in which little boy Sing is duped into paying $10 (his entire life savings) for a 20 cent Buddhist Palm manual. Little Sing practices his tiny heart out for about 15 seconds of film, and then attempts to save a mute little girl from a band of older boys who are trying to steal her lollipop. He diverts their attention from the little girl, but loses the fight, gets peed on, and somehow the moral he took away from that is that he wants to be a killer, because the good guys never win.

This whole scene simply confirms the time period of the story. This guy has obviously never seen a Bruce Lee flick.

So Sing wants to be a bad guy. And to prove how bad he is, he steals some ice cream from a mute girl with an ice cream cart and runs away laughing. Wow. Way to go tough guy.


Yes, those are shifty eyes. Did he really just miss the entire point of his own flashback?


Meanwhile, back in the tenement, Landlady is ticked. She doesn't want Kung Fu Masters mucking up the day to day life of her slum. Landlady is yelling at the Fairy, Rabbit-Tooth Jane is yelling at Landlady, Landlady is yelling back, and pretty soon the whole town is hollering about something or another. Feeling she has lost control of the situation, Landlady drops the cigarette that I would have sworn was superglued to her lip, and lets out an impressive wail that rattles the windows and splinters glass. While she's doing that, apparently she is the one Sing has decided to kill, as he and Bone are hiding in a shed a short distance away. Sing tries to kill her, but only ends up with three hilariously procured stab wounds and two snake bites to the lips, and is subsequently chased through the countryside by Landlady and her superhuman fast flip-flopped feet in fantastic Road-Runner fashion.

Don't worry, he gets away. And he really is very lovable by now, we promise. Even if he has been entirely dim-witted for the first 35 minutes of the film. I guess that's part of his charm. He runs off, lips swollen to the size of cantaloupes, hides inside a traffic light maintenance thingy-ma-bobber, bends his little steel hideout all out of shape with his palm, and comes out two minutes later entirely recovered from all previous injuries.

Color me confused. Does he know he has crazy kung fu healing abilities? Or is this like a Bruce Banner/Incredible Hulk type thing where he has no idea what's going on? I personally have a feeling he knows and is playing dumb. We'll see.

While Landlady tries every trick up her sleeve to get the three superheroes out of her general vicinity, Brother Sum has come up with a fabulous plan for revenge. He hires the second best killers in the world, who look something like the Blues Brothers meets Nosferatu.

The best killer in the world is apparently unavailable, having lost his mind somewhere along the way. Anyway, the musician fellows are sent out to take down the three, who we have now learned are renowned warriors who all retired and somehow managed to end up leading mundane lives in the same dull village. The three are sparring, having fun, packing up their things and preparing to set out to find new mundane lives when these harpists show up, trying to claw their faces off. How rude!

So these harpists, they sit down and start playing this thing called a zither, and they....

Hold up.

This is ridiculous. I quit.

When I started writing this thing, I thought...

'Wow! What a fantastic movie to cover! All the great cultural and cinematic references, the fabulously hopeful moral of the story, the incredibly well-structured characters that play off each other so nicely!'

But let's be honest here. I am no Stephen Chow. I could only ever hope to be about half as funny or talented as his big toe. I have fought and struggled and toiled to try to convey the excellence and awesomeness, and it just ain't workin' folks.

The best thing I can do for you at this point is to say that if you haven't seen this spectacularly hilarious array of beatdowns and shenanigans, we highly recommend that you crawl out from the rock you've been living under for the last 8 years, sit your butt down on the comfiest seat in the house with a box of milk duds and a tasty beverage, and commence with the viewing. I promise, it's WAY better than anything I could ever possibly write.

Yours Humbly,

MJ, The Maven with the Epic Fail
(who also happens to reeeeeally want some of those lollipop earrings)

No comments:

Post a Comment