Kung Fu Hustle (2004) Martial Arts Comedy Feels Like a Musical

Kung Fu Hustle (2004) Martial Arts Comedy Feels Like a Musical Screen Shot 2015-07-01 at 19.18.56
Directed, co-written by and starring Stephen Chow, as a sort of follow up to his 2001 film Shaolin Soccer, Kung Fu Hustle follows a similar premise as the earlier film. In this marital arts comedy, which does feel like a musical in many parts, the idea is that kung fu masters can come in any guise and be found in the most unusual places.

This award winning film begins by showing the rise of the notorious Axe Gang and then moves to a suburb of Shanghai where the tiny township of Pig Sty is ruled with an iron fist by the landlord and his wife. Two con men who dream of joining the Axe Gang try to fool the locals into believing that they are gangsters from the notorious group.

After trying to force a barber into giving them free haircut as well as insisting that he pay them for protection, the hair cutter gets the landlady involved. She takes off a sandal and proceeds to beat Sing (Chow) pretty soundly. He warns her that he will call his brother Axe Gang members and throws a firecracker over a house.

The cracker hits a real Axe Gang member and Sing, after telling the leader that he is one of them, lets the gang take over. The landlady of Pig Sty departs rapidly and the head Axe man approaches the barber who says he is not afraid. As the gang head moves to kill the other man, something invisible hits him and he is knocked into a barrel. With his back broken he calls for backup.

The entire Axe Gang invade the town and three kung fu masters from the small township defeat the whole gang, the noodle cook, a shower curtain salesman and a handyman all save Pig Sty. The landlady tells them off and says the gang will not rest until they destroy the town and tells the three local heroes that they should leave. While she tells off the entire suburb, Sing and his friend Donut try to throw knives at her and they all end up sticking into Sing.

The two leave Pig Sty and Sing “heals” himself while the Axe Gang set out to destroy the small township. It is up to Sing, the landlord and the landlady to save the day and defeat the evil Axe Gang.

Kung Fu Hustle is easily one of the funniest martial arts films ever made. The action is on par with most Warner Bros Looney Tunes cartoons and is just as entertaining. From Sing ending up with three knives in his body, being bitten on the lips by two poisonous snakes and being chased for miles by the irate landlady to two supernatural assassins who use musical instruments to defeat their enemies, this film delights.

This movie is a homage to all martial arts film from China with many nods and winks to Bruce Lee, who helped to revolutionize the art of screen fighting in the cinema. The plot and story are wide ranging with many surprises along the way.

The film is on Netflix at the moment, but for those who despise subtitles, there are DVD copies of the film that have been dubbed. Kung Fu Hustle is a real 5 out of 5 stars for comedy and a record number of belly laughs, watch this one and prepare to be entertained. A cracking good film that does feel almost like a comedic martial arts musical.

Try it, you’ll like it.

Ip Man 2 (2010): Continuing the Tale

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Directed again by Wilson Yip (for the last time in the series) Ip Man 2 continues the tale of Ip Man and his rise to worldwide fame. There have been less complaints about the film makers “frugality” with actual events this time around. Picking up where Ip Man finished, the film takes place in Hong Kong.

Donnie Yen reprises his role as the modest yet powerful Wing Chun master Ip Man. But he is not alone, he’s got company from several actors from the first film. Actors Simon Yam, Lynn Hung, Siu-Wong Fan, and Li Chak are all back reprising their roles from the first film.

One very delightful addition to the cast is Sammo Hung, who choreographed Ip Man 1 and 2, playing the overbearing martial artist master Hung-Chun Nam. Despite recovering from major heart surgery just prior to filming, Sammo gives his usual level of acting and (performing all his own stunts and getting injured in the process) fighting.

This time around it’s not just other martial arts masters that Ip Man has to deal with, it’s the occupational British who have claimed Hong Kong for their commonwealth. With an overbearing attitude, which to be far the English in those days practised wherever they happened to occupy, and a clear distaste for the new British commonwealth citizenry; the people who “run” Hong Kong are equal to the Japanese in their attitude if not their actions.

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Despite this being the real focal point of the film, the actors playing the snobby and dislikable English overseers of Hong Kong are abysmal. Not one of them can decide which accent to use sounding like a strange combination of Australian, quasi-English, American, and God knows what else.

Bad accents aside, the acting level was such that I harboured suspicions that the film makers had grabbed foreign tourists off the street to plug into the roles of the villainous British leaders. In a film where most of the climatic scenes take place against these oppressors, it really hurt not only the credibility of the film but it marred the film’s message as well.

Still, the fight scenes were impressive, the students were likeable, irritating and endearing, and Ip Man’s wife was a lot more understanding this time around.

I need to say a quick word about Siu-Wong Fan who got to reprise his role as Jin from the first film, his character is a reformed man after  the experiences from his interactions with Ip in the first film. He gets more of a part to play in the proceedings as a good guy, but then,  he practically disappears for the rest of the film. I loved what he did with Jin and he was easily my favourite character besides Ip and Hung.

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Donnie Yen has gone on record as saying that this is the definitive Ip Man film and that it easily overshadows the first film. I disagree. While he does a brilliant job, again, as Ip; the film doesn’t have quite the same structure or fluidity that the first film offered. The scenes of Ip fighting Master Nam (and his sycophants) could have been a lot longer although, admittedly, the premise of fighting on a loose table top was pretty damned impressive.

When Ip Man 2 was in its pre-production stage, it was going to focus on Ip’s relationship with famous pupil Bruce Lee. Due to their inability to get legal clearance from Lee’s family in time, Lee’s “appearance” in the film is shortened to just a few seconds of a very young Lee “meeting” Ip Man. A short sequence that was amusing, but intimately un-needed, I thought.

Overall, despite Yen’s assurances that this the Ip Man movie that will gain legendary status, I did not enjoy the film nearly as much as I did the first one. Consequently, I’ve given it a 4 out of 5 stars after taking a full star off for the un-even acting skills of the non-Chinese actors in the film.

Although I am sure that all the “foreign” actors in the film were hampered somewhat by working in a film that doesn’t feature English as its main language, a problem that I’ve noticed in most Asian films that feature English or American actors/characters. I hope that the next project they work on doesn’t handicap them as badly as this film did.

This is available on iTunes at the moment.

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Ip Man (2008): Donnie Yen’s Masterful Performance

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It is not often that a film benefits from having not just one legend, but two associated with it. Ip Man has two. Starring the legendary Donnie Yen in what is quite possibly his best role ever and featuring choreography by the legendary Sammo Hung. (Who when asked how he was going to work with Yen to direct the action scenes, Hung replied matter-of-factly, “With my mouth.”) *Wikipedia* 

Both men are well-known for their fight choreography with Sammo nudging Donnie out by sheer number of years that he’s been practising his craft.

Directed with past Yen collaborator  Wilson Yip, Ip Man is the “true story” of Yip Man grandmaster of Wing Chun and master of film legend Bruce Lee. Touted as being semi-biographcal, the film is pretty liberal with the “truth” as things of this nature tend to be. While the rudimentary facts may be correct a lot of things were added to make the film more entertaining.

Despite this frugality with the real facts, the film is a powerful one. The recreation of Foshan in Shanghai looks so authentic you feel as if the film company had really gone back in time to shoot the scenes.

Some complaints were raised about Ip Man’s house being incorrect and that he never shovelled coal during the occupation and the facts of his move to Hong Kong are misleading. But as the film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance says, “print the legend.” Or in this case, make it up.

Yen is stunning as the placid, peace-loving martial artist who won’t give lessons and spars with the local masters privately in order to save them the public embarrassment of being beaten.

At one point, he has to take on a usurper from outside the town. This ruffian fights his way through all the Foshan martial art instructors until only Ip Man is left. Going to his home, the outsider brings what looks like the members of every school in the town to watch him beat Ip Man.

Everyone in Foshan knows that Ip Man will be victorious and he is.

Everything changes in 1937 when the Japanese invade China and this is where majority of the drama and tension come into the film.

The legendary Sammo Hung.
The legendary Sammo Hung.

The fight scenes are exciting, original, and furious. The Wing Chun style is breathtaking to watch and the other martial arts battles are impressive as well.

The entire cadre of actors in the film sold their characters and I spotted quite a few familiar faces in it.

My only complaint was that in some instances parts of the story were a bit “over the top” so that it almost felt like a “kitchen sink” drama instead of a biopic. But theatricality aside the film looks, overall, fantastic and I got caught up with the characters and the “true” story completely.

A real 5 out of 5 stars for a film that had me munching my popcorn furiously throughout. I’m now going to “watch’ my way through the rest of the films in this four film series.

Even if you don’t love martial arts films the story of Yip Man could turn you into a fan.

The real Ip Man (Yip Man) and a young Bruce Lee.
The real Ip Man (Yip Man) and a young Bruce Lee.