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Sony Picture Classics presents
"In the world of kung fu, speed defines the winner."
DVD Review"In a time of social unrest and disorder the gangs run amuck. The most feared of them is the Axe Gang. Only in the poorest districts, which hold no interest for the gangs, can people live in peace."
This brief introduction provides the setting for the nearly constant action of Kung Fu Hustle, but it rarely scratches the surface of the film's over-the-top contents. The story takes place in 1940s Shanghai, a city ruled by the lawlessness of the well-dressed Axe Gang. Their leader is Brother Sum (Chan Kwok Kwan)—a vicious dancing dude who has no qualms about shooting a woman when her back is turned. His gang's attire is the sharp suits prevalent in Golden-Age gangster cinema, and it is easy to recognize them from a significant distance. Unfortunately, the Axe Gang is very large, so escaping from their clutches is another matter. A showdown between this nasty bunch and heroic kung fu masters would seem to present enough plot for an entire film. Instead, this short description only scratches the surface of the high-flying battles depicted.
Director and star Stephen Chow scored big in Hong Kong with 2001's Shaolin Soccer, which faced severe cuts from Miramax prior to its U.S. theatrical release. Thankfully, this energetic picture avoided that fate and appeared with only a few minor cuts needed to receive an R rating. Yes, there is extreme violence in this picture, but most of it falls into the cartoon variety, with characters surviving brutal attacks and bouncing all over the screen due to impressive wire work. One particularly amazing sequence pays homage to “The Burly Brawl” from The Matrix Reloaded and outdoes its predecessor by including more stunts and less recognizable digital effects. Throughout the story, unique characters of every type enter the mix and display original talents. One group of killers generates damage from their apparently harmless musical instruments, while another figure can stop the path of an approaching bullet. The result is an almost-constant display of acrobatic moves, tough attacks, and enjoyable sight gags that hardly desists throughout the 100-minute running time.
The basic story involves the residents of a slum named Pig Sty Alley that has a surprising number of kung fu masters living within its walls. Their lack of funds keeps the Axe Gang away from their homes, but events quickly change thanks to the bumbling efforts of the petty thief Sing (Stephen Chow) and his portly buddy (Lam Tze Chung). Posing as members of the gang but really running a small-time con game, they manage to draw out Pig Sty's talented warriors. These events set the stage for endless chaotic sequences involving numerous stunts and digital effects. Chow makes few attempts to develop a realistic story, which should please genre fanatics but alienate others. His influences depicted on screen range among Warner Brothers' Looney Tunes, the gangster films of Hollywood's early days, and modern over-the-top action films.
Successful recent martial arts films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and House of Flying Daggers have taken a serious approach and depicted emotional tales of love and honor. Kung Fu Hustle veers in a much different comedic direction and provides some cheap laughs at the expense of its characters. They fall off ledges, take beatings from nerdy kids on the bus, have potted plants smashed on their heads, and face other silly indignities. However, an underlying message does exist concerning the great possibilities within everyone. The Axe Gang fighters are actually pretty weak once they battle the true kung fu masters, who are not the typically super-athletic types. Although this idea is suppressed between the constant silliness, it does bring a refreshing human side that combines effectively with the otherworldly elements.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: Kung Fu Hustle's ambitious and colorful set design springs wonderfully from this 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. While the numerous characters battle in all types of settings, the picture offers a minimal amount of grain or defects. The images are especially bright and attractive, which helps to sell Stephen Chow's impressive direction and leads to a topnotch presentation.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: This disc utilizes a powerful 5.1-channel Dolby Digital track that allows the various levels of destruction to appear believable on the screen. While debris flies in every direction, the audio flows throughout the sound field and helps to generate an immersive experience. Viewers may choose between the original Chinese language track and a dubbed English version for those who avoid subtitles.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
10 Other Trailer(s) featuring Layer Cake, 2046, November, 3-Iron, House of Flying Daggers, Lords of Dogtown, XXX: State of the Union, Stripes, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Mirror Mask
15 TV Spots/Teasers
2 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Stephen Chow, Lam Tze Chung, Tin Kai Man, and Chan Kwok Kwun
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Another worthwhile extra is the 28-minute interview with Chow by Asian film expert Ric Meyers. Speaking in English, Chow quickly discusses his background, but most of the conversation focuses on the specific aspects of the production. He speaks well and appears to enjoy speaking about a wide range of elements, including the casting, music, and story decisions. The two deleted scenes are much less exciting, as they simply present alternate versions of moments that do appear in the original film. Each scene runs for about two minutes and provides little new material.
The remaining supplements include five minutes of outtakes and bloopers, 15 television spots, 11 preview trailers, and an international poster exploration gallery. The bloopers consist mainly of the actors cracking up while trying to complete lines, but they also include a few mistakes with the complex wire work. The TV spots are mostly 30 seconds and appear with an attractive widescreen format. Another impressive aspect is the large collection of trailers, which include such recent successful martial arts pictures as House of Flying Daggers and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon along with new films like November.
Extras Grade: A-
Final CommentsStephen Chow's Kung Fu Hustle takes the martial arts genre to new heights of both action and silliness. He deftly combines the violent battles with gags and crafts a highly entertaining movie. This impressive DVD is poised to become a major home-video hit, especially among genre devotees.
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