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“Do the “Kung Fu Hustle”
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Had Akira Kurosawa directed Chuck Jones cartoons, they would have resembled the new cult hit comedy “Kung Fu Hustle,” a Hong Kong import that combines fierce killings, heightened martial arts and other hijinks to form a parody of both Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill, Volume One” and Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns of the 60s. It also satirically comments on destiny, claiming that even evil deeds and the propensity for treachery cannot erase an anointed one’s fate.

Turf wars become brutal in 40’s Shanghai. The ineffectual police are either chumps or dupes for whoever’s in charge at the time. The Crocodile Gang leads the town until chopped up by the Axe Gang, the most vicious of thugs. Two vagabonds, desperate to join the squad, launch an assault on a dilapidated village, only to be caught off-guard when the scrappy inhabitants excel at mystical martial arts. The Axe gang wages war but find these surfs to be unpredictable and not so easy to dismiss and crack.

“Kung Fu Hustle,” like “Airplane”, builds this slapstick ballet to frantic pace, tossing visual puns at the unsuspecting audience. Events occur so quickly and characters evolve from villains to heroes to corpses in the blink of an eye. Chow makes references to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Bruce Lee and Clint Eastwood. At the same time, director Stephen Chow paints a chaotic mis-en-scene, one visually masterful. Harps spew out invisible but deadly swords; heroes spin assassins around in a circle, their wake forming a ying/yang symbol; even the waves of heat are so palatable, you can feel the sand in your teeth.

Decapitations, eviscerations and skewerings plague the film’s populace yet the ramifications aren’t thrust in the audience’s faces. Chow hides the gore from audiences raised on Tarantino and the EC Comic bloodletting of “Sin City.” Though R-Rated, “Kung Fu Hustle” presents nothing here that would upset a teenager raised on Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees. Even when a cat slices in half, it’s shadowed and displayed as a sick but hilarious visual joke instead. Though, not ultra-violent, “Hustle” does contain some uncomfortable non-Hollywood moments, such as several bullies urinating on a young boy.

What’s remarkable is that this film still manages to infuse heart into the tale despite a hero prone to dastardly activities, and two modern samurais who act as slumlords akin to the nasty innkeepers, the Thénardiers from “Les Miserables . ” Chow, who plays the thug attempting to join the gang, is an engaging personality. Even when desperately hoping to be bad, he projects a decency betraying his actions. When he evolves into a warrior, the conversion comes as a natural progression. Both Wah Yuen as the lascivious landlord and Qui Yuen as the iron-fisted landlady convincingly transform into combating machines. Qui Yuen, dressed in a dirty smock and rollers, darts around the empty streets like Roadrunner and smashes into walls like Wile E. Coyote. All three flawlessly dance the choreographed brawls with the ease of Jackie Chan or Chow Yun-Fat.

Silly, off-beat and a visual cornucopia of sight-gags and feral energy, “Kung Fu Hustle” will delight those attune to martial art genre and novices alike. With a sassy beat, and a tongue planted firmly in its cheek, “Hustle” is a perfect companion for Chow’s earlier hit “Shaolin Soccer.”

Grade: A-

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