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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Just Saw the First-Person Part of Doom

Thought it was fun. I don't really need to see the rest of the movie, do I?

Ha! Fooled ya -- this post is actually about Kung Fu Hustle, the Stephen Chow vehicle with the CGI effects and the boinging and the kung-fu and the bad jokes. I saw it last week, and here's my review:

Have you seen Shaolin Soccer? Then you've also seen the essence of Kung-Fu Hustle, a movie so like its predecessor it should have been named Shaolin Soccer II: This Time Without a Bad Sport Involved. Yes, they flatten a soccer ball early in the film as if to distance it from the shadow of soccer, but it's still all about two groups of talented fighters amping things up towards an inevitable conclusion where writer/director/star/Jackie Chan stand-in Stephen Chow ceases being a goofball, realizes his destiny, kicks some butt, and gets the girl. If you're like me, you realize this about 1/3 of the way in, which sorta takes some of the fun out of things. Thankfully, the movie has lots of fun to spare.

Mr. Chow stars as a con man who decides that being good doesn't pay after a bad childhood kung-fu experience. He wants to join the "Axe Gang," a group of kung-fuers that has established a sort of mob rule over the land, and who dance in unison while wearing 1920's garb and carring hatchets. He goes to Pig Sty, a poor village, and gets his fat friend to pretend he's a member of the Axe Gang in order to get a free haircut. This brings the Axe Gang to Pig Sty, and thus the film's fighting engine is started as the Axes try and try again to overcome the Pig Sty villagers, some of whom happen to be extremely unlikely kung-fu masters.

It really is as simple as that. Mr. Chow's character is almost useless until the final act, where his backstory starts to finally (and in totally telegraphed ways) pay off. But just like a Jackie Chan movie, the plot takes a back seat to the style and action, and so better questions to ask would be:

Is it cool? Heck yes. Everything from the Axe Gang to the Kung-Fu Masters to the plain-old village is full of a dirty charisma -- especially the Axe Gang and their perfectly slimy leader. The CGI-fueled fighting sequences are effective and sometimes spectacular, just like in Shaolin Soccer. Every scene ooozes a cartoonish but slick style.

Is it fun? Heck yes. Especially the landlady who has a cigarette dangling perilously out of her mouth every time you see her, even while doing kung-fu. The character are all weird-looking, just like in Shaolin Soccer. Mr. Chow knows how to make a fun, silly, and feel-good kung-fu extravaganza. I just wish there were a few more surprises along the way, and I don't mean people flattening soccer balls or "the people you least suspect" being good at kung-fu. I suspected them, Mr. Chow, I suspected them.

Ahh, but it's fun. 3 out of 5 overpriced popcorns.


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