a big difference between the way Steven Chow, the director and
star of the Hong Kong comedy Kung Fu Hustle, and uberhacks
like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez pay homage to movies.
The results are superficially the same, a buttload of movie
references sprayed over a thin plot. Like Tarantino and Rodriguez,
Chow seems to get pretty wrapped up in imitating what he loves,
and the results are insular. You either love Looney Tunes, Bruce
Lee, Michael Jackson videos and old soundstage musicals, or
you're sort of on the outside of Kung Fu Hustle.
big difference between Chow and those other guys, though: Chow
doesn't come off as a self-absorbed asshole. In his martial
arts movie, Kung Fu Hustle, when he imitates some old
movie, it's because he loves it, not because he wants you to
know he loves it. The shit Tarantino and Rodriguez rip off from
other movies is never about their love of great cinema; it's
always about them. Look! Look how fucking cool I am! No,
really! I'm cool now. I'm making up for my high school years,
big time! In fact, I bet Rodriguez and Tarantino have already
gone on the record declaring Kung Fu Hustle cool, not
because they think it is, but because they want you to think
fine for some people. It's exactly why Worm peels one leg off
the vinyl and duct tape on his barstool whenever he lets loose
his thunderous gas. Not to relieve the pressure in his ass,
but because he wants everyone to know he has. So, I guess what
I'm trying to say is Kung Fu Hustle is more like a silent
fart than a raspberry of film tribute: it's the artful elegant
way to get the stink out of your system.
that, I think homage is frequently just a lazy way for writers
and directors to weasel out of creating anything new. An imitation
of something great is not equally great. It's all about how
you use what you've borrowed. It's always been this way, if
you think about it. The caveman who invented the spear probably
impressed the ladies. But the first guy to make a copy didn't
see nearly as much action. No, the next guy to get laid was
the one who figured out the spear was great for stabbing your
neighbors. Here's another analogy: I didn't invent the work
fuck. This kid named Mike Kenner that I was in third grade with
did. He also invented Slime and his dad was in the CIA. But
he told me he invented fuck. Where is Mike now? Well, according
to his Christmas newsletter he is now a top secret CIA agent
himself, owns eight mansions and has only a few top-tier openings
left in a multi-level online marketing program, and he'd let
me have on for a large franchise fee. He invented fuck and now
he's a god damn superstar. I keep using his word and where the
hell am I? Eating raisins out of the crevices of a thrift store
couch in a basement apartment.
to his homage to make Kung Fu Hustle. Not a lot, but
enough to create a new product that's better than imitation,
and cooler than the forced hipness of his American counterparts.
Fu Hustle, a small tenement called Pig Sty Alley is tormented
by a gang of bespoke gangsters wielding axes. But different
heros keep coming to the aid of the tenement and making things
hard for the gangsters. The fights escalate like the guns in
a shootout between Bugs Bunny and Marvin the Martian. At the
same time, Chow plays a bum who once tried to be good, but found
that being bad was more rewarding.
to destroy Pig Sty Alley, Axe Gang discovers that it is home
to five former kung fu masters among its poor, working schlubs
and each one gets his licks in one the gang and its assassins
before being taken down. Chow, at first wishes to be in the
Axe Gang, but has a change of heart and discovers that he is
not a loser after all. He's the One, the ultimate kung fu master
and the only one who can save the tenement.
Fu Hustle is sloppy and cheap, and it's a little with characters
and fights. So many fights start to feel similar to a guy like
me who doesn't really see much kung fu. Maybe it's like when
people complain to me that pornos are always the same. Sure,
to the untrained eye every anal double penetration may look
the same but, shit, they're having sex on camera. So, fuck it,
it's not the same. Shirtless guys fighting gets older way faster.
Especially if you try jerking off to it.
also loving and sincere. It could have been really fucking funny,
I guess, but it is only amusing sporadically and with little
consistency. Chow amps up the action in places--giving characters
cartoon whirls of legs as they run, and cracking flower pots
over head-- but he mostly just imitates the tradition of the
cheesy kung fu movies of the 70s.
opens in pretty cool style. It's a city clearly built on a studio
backlot, like the one at the beginning of Touch of Evil,
and gives the sense that this is all artifice. At other times
Kung Fu Hustle has the colorful fakery look of Babe:
Pig in the City, but it doesn't stick with the theme and
slowly wanders off to long stretches with no discernible style.
Throughout the movie, Chow relies heavily on digital effects
that he must not have been able to afford. they look cheap and
a shitload of characters in Kung Fu Hustle. Too many,
really, and it makes the heart of the matter sort of hard to
get to. It feels like a family reunion, you know, where all
these people are talking at you and you wish there were fewer
and they'd shut up more often. Except, if they shut up, then
you wouldn't understand how Aunt Lodi got those knife scars
on her cheeks, and learning that is the only reason you came
in the first place.
is pretty bad. I don't know if this is also a tribute to old
kung fu movies, but if Chow wants to make a real emotional statement,
this cornball shit undermines him. I think part of the movie's
appeal is how naive and amateur it feels. Well, the high spirit
and sincerity are there, but if I wanted amateur I could have
watched the second graders Easter play at Lawrence elementary.
And that has two distinct advantages: first, it was free; second,
it's easy to make those kids cry. I have yet to make characters
in a movie cry, but as long as Ben Affleck keeps making movies
I'll sure as hell keep trying.
Fingers for Kung Fu Hustle, a decent movie, certainly
sincere and that counts for something. By the way,
Mrs. Filthy is back with a weekly column, and she's
dishing the gossip about her job at Hancock Fabrics. Check it