So – this would be the first movie review, and it’s been edited somewhat since receiving some feedback :). These words of introduction still stand though:
Firstly, “film critic” is a phrase that has been hitherto absent from my CV. I have little experience in critiquing others’ artistic works, and this will doubtless be apparent. Feedback is very welcome!
Secondly, my choice of film is entirely arbitrary. I got 20 or so Cantonese films for Christmas (thanks Dad!), chosen for the strengths of their reviews on Amazon and/or Rotten Tomatoes. Prior to this, I’d lived a life entirely sheltered from Hong Kong cinema, and so I’ve been watching each film without any preconceptions or expectations beyond the blurb and the aforementioned reviews. All of these films are UK releases, and so only have English subs – although this isn’t such a problem with Cantonese, where Chinese subs wouldn’t match up half the time anyway.
Finally, these reviews will be somewhat atypical, since not only is there a consideration of “is this a good film”, but there’s also the aspect of “is this going to help people learn a language?”. Oh, also, I hate having the story spoiled (either in part or in full) by movie reviews, so any synopses will be kept to a bare minimum.
Anyway, today I’m going to look at Kung Fu Hustle, directed by and starring Stephen Chow. This is a slapstick parody, and as such the plot takes a definite back seat to the action – there are no deep philosophical questions posed, just a straightforward good vs. evil affair. It meanders between various apparent protagonists, but the progression is fairly fluid – after the first half hour or so of focus on the Axe Gang (a criminal presence in 1940s Shanghai) and their exploits, it turns out the main character, Sing, (played by Stephen Chow) has made it his mission in life to join them. The condition for doing this is that he needs to kill at least one person, and his lack of aptitude for doing so is the basis for several comic scenes. He’s fundamentally a good person, although past experiences made him figure that good guys never win (ergo his desire to join up with the local mobsters) – and this struggle between good and evil comprises the remainder of the film, leading to a prolonged-but-epic one-on-one kung-fu finale.
As the title suggests, this is a martial arts film, although one entirely devoid of seriousness. Ever seen some of those anime scenes where a guy gets totally pummeled in ways that are in complete defiance of the laws of physics? Now imagine those scenes with live actors, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what kind of a film this is. There’s also some amusing parody of other martial arts and triad films which can appeal to anyone who knows the genres even vaguely – there are plenty of over-the-top villains and mobsters, and unlikely fighting disciplines (toad-style, anyone?).
Interspersed and integrated with much of the Monty Python level silliness are some well-choreographed martial arts scenes, which were fun to watch – there were scenes with few fighters pirouetting on top of balconies and banisters, scenes with hundreds of axemen pouring in on the protagonists (Matrix style), and one-on-one scenes set inside increasingly derelict buildings. Slow-mo dodging against a pair of fighters who could create swords and javelins by playing a musical instrument also featured; although this particular scene went on long enough for the novelty to wear off, the diversity of the fights in general made it consistently engaging. There’s plenty of shrapnel flying everywhere, lending the scenes extra vividity, as well as all sorts of hilarious injuries to the various characters (although the scene where Sing has his entire body stomped further and further into the ground was ever so slightly painful). The CGI was excellent – but what film have you seen recently that had crappy special effects?
Much of the film takes place in a town populated by farmers, and I don’t think their Cantonese accent was that of Hong Kong – it sometimes sounded a little like Malaysian Cantonese (corrections welcome if this isn’t the case) – that might make it a little harder to understand for a beginner. Also, since this is a martial arts movie, there was more decidedly more action than dialogue, although I did manage to understand some of what was said first time round (always difficult when focusing on the (decent) English subs).
All in all, Kung Fu Hustle was a good way to spend 90 minutes (thumbs up for brevity by the way) – so long you find slapstick and parody amusing. It offers well-choreographed and diverse fight scenes that generally aren’t overly long and a largely peripheral story that nonetheless manages to lend cohesiveness and interest to the martial arts sections. For Cantonese learners, there are better films out there for use as specific learning tools, so it’s probably best enjoyed as is.
 Although I probably missed most of them, having thus far seen comparatively few films of this genre.
 I’m not quite sure how one gauges the quality of a fight scene. I’d like to propose a criteria of “is it better or worse than this?”, although that would probably result in every martial arts battle being rated as “perfect”.