2003 Milk Plus Droogies

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Kill Bill Vol. I

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Quentin Tarantino, Kill Bill Vol. I

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Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean

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Bill Murray, Lost in Translation

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Uma Thurman, Kill Bill Vol. I

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David Hyde Pierce, Down With Love

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Miranda Richardson, Spider

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Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation

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Harris Savides, Gerry

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The Blog:
Thursday, April 14, 2005
Kung Fu Hustle

With a enthusiastically carefree (or perhaps careless) attitude towards plot, protagonists, antagonists, or any real meaning, writer/director/producer/actor Stephen Chow offers up a riotous, animated homage to Chinese cinema in Kung Fu Hustle. Packed to the brim with eccentric, wild-mouthed caricatures who bend the laws of physics in the name of a new kind of special effects-assisted comedy, Chow has fashioned a wild, highly tuned, but perpetually meaningless comedy-action romp. The only thing keeping the film together is the central location of a tenant slum building, which is owned by the magnificent comic duo of the Landlord (Yuen Wah, languorous and woman chasing) and the Landlady (Yuen Qiu, hair always in curlers, cigarette always drooping from mouth, and always either yelling at tenants or slapping her husband). Their cruelty to their tenants and to each other seems ripe for a plot about someone stepping in to fix the injustice, but Stephen Chow is not that man. Rather than playing a hero on his way up, Chow casts himself as a no-good beggar bent on joining a Shanghai gang. He starts a fight with the low-class tenants to draw the attention of the leading group of mobsters, the “Axe Gang,” who descend on the slum in tuxedoes and top hats and wielding hatchets. Bouncing from one near-random set piece to the next, it turns out that several retired martial-arts masters dwell in the slums, and they promptly kick the wind out of the sails of the gangsters. With the gang retreating to their Shanghai casino, expert fighters are assembled on both sides for a final showdown and Chow’s character has to choose sides and fulfill the destiny promised to him as a child by a dirty, con-artist tramp, that of being a “kungfu genius.”

Believe it or not, Chow as a director relies more on special effects than any working Hollywood director. The myriad of pop culture jokes, homages, parodies, and caricatures flying across the screen in Kung Fu Hustle is only matched by the film’s relentless use of computer graphics to animate the rubber-bodied elasticity of its characters. This often works with ingenious results, mostly when Chow is working with sight gags and sudden, unexpected flourishes that surprise you into realizing that making live-action now has the physical freedom of a cartoon. Unfortunately quite often the film descends into fairly plain fight sequences “livened up” by goofy, flying bodies, and since the effects still look several years behind those of Hollywood if the joke doesn’t work the special effect really doesn’t have anything else to rely upon.

Luckily the gag-writing of the film’s large writing team usually doesn’t fail, and the transparency of their lack of worry about making a film with coherent stories, real characters, or any point whatsoever is decidedly good-natured in its honesty. Sure, the film—with much eye-rolling—does touch upon a couple themes, namely that down-trodden groups of people should stick together because they possess strong, innate powers that require some sort of shock or injustice to occur to awaken them (Chow’s character, useless and contemptible for the film’s first hour hilariously turns into The One in the film’s final minutes), a creepy message coming from a film co-financed by China, whose recent clarification of foreign policy towards Taiwan makes this film vaguely, vaguely seem allegorically pro-Taiwanese, but this is really pushing it. Rather, one of the most charming elements of the film is its loving cinematic anarchy, with no point in sight and no rule of convention isn’t bendable, if not breakable. Kung Fu Hustle spiritedly, liberally embraces all its characters, good or bad, and they each are distinctly drawn and given their fair share of hilarity. The evil gang boss, after bloodily executing a group of rival gang members in the film’s opening minutes, gets a funky dance and musical number to introduce his sinister gang, and the Landlady, initially setup as a socially acceptable evil female twin of the gang leader, turns out to be an endearing heroine with a wicked martial power. The film is so slippery in its postmodernity, so simultaneously caring in its references and carefree in making a coherent film out of them it is hard not to bask in the cinematic exuberance.