For the most part, I like my martial arts films to be as realistic as possible, but I have no problem taking a walk on the cinematic wild side, especially when the special effects are as impressive as those in this film. Kung Fu Hustle can't be compared to any other single movie or genre. Regardless of its excesses, the martial arts action in the film is something to behold. Underneath all of the comedy and over-the-top visual delights (and it can be almost cartoonish at times), there's also a seriousness to the film. It's all about good vs. evil, self-realization, and stepping up to meet your destiny. And, as much as I hate to say it, I thought the ending was quite sweet. The extraordinary special effects dominate the film and any viewer's discussion of it, but don't let that fool you into thinking there isn't a substantive story behind all of the flash.
The toughest hombres around are the members of the Two Axe Gang; put a Japanese face on John Dillinger, give him a pair of axes, and you've the old-time mobster look and feel of these guys down. They usually leave the slum areas alone, but Pig Sty Alley, run by a seemingly wimpy landlord and the toughest landlady you'd ever want to meet, ends up in the gang's crosshairs thanks to a couple of bad guy wannabes (and perpetual screwups) trying to insinuate themselves into the gang. Sing (Stephen Chow) desperately wants to be a bad guy, having paid a price as a child for trying to live up to his destiny (a rather questionable one, at that) of bringing peace to the world. The landlady's mean attitude isn't enough to hold off untold dozens of axe-wielding gangsters, but the town is saved by three kung fu masters who had moved there in search of a peaceful life. Rest assured there are repercussions, as the Two Axe Gang brings in some of the world's most deadly killers to exact revenge - starting with a pair of musicians with a unique, decidedly deadly playing style. Later, they have Sing engineer a breakout of the Beast, the deadliest killer of them all. He doesn't look like much, but the Beast is an almost unstoppable force. The only person who can possibly take him on with any chance of success is a natural-born, kung fu genius - and those are pretty darn rare.
The special effects of the many fight scenes go way beyond the kind of wire work seen in, say, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and also out-Matrix The Matrix; on occasion, you'll see stuff right out of Hanna-Barbera cartoons. Does this make the movie too goofy for its own good? Somehow, it really doesn't. If you're going to go to the extreme with your action, you might as well go all the way - and that is most certainly what Kung Fu Hustle does. From a chase right out of Road Runner cartoons to the perfectly ridiculous Toad Style of fighting perfected by the Beast, you'll laugh - but you'll also be in awe at how well the scenes play.
Basically, Kung Fu Hustle is just a complete hoot of a movie. As writer, director, and star, Stephen Chow has produced a pure winner capable of entertaining fans across a range of genres. Even he cannot steal the limelight from Leung Siu Lung, however, as this landlady, with a cigarette perpetually hanging out of her mouth, truly roars - both literally and figuratively.