Kung Fu Hustle | A Love Letter to Hong Kong Action Cinema


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Hong Kong’s cinematic influence in Hollywood has a long and colorful history, and arguably
it’s biggest contribution to film is its action choreography. Even as far back as the 1950’s
you can see martial arts making their way into mainstream American movies, a trend that
would only continue to grow until it’s peak in the 90’s and early 2000’s after the release
of The Matrix. We can still see its influence today, with many of Hollywood’s leading blockbusters
employing similar cinematic techniques to depict styilized, larger-than-life action
sequences. During the height of its popularity, the trend of martial arts action began showing
up in just about every movie from the critically acclaimed Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and
Kill Bill movies to the critically panned Bulletproof Monk or The Tuxedo. Obvious and
poor Matrix imitations like Charlie’s Angels to the iconic lightsaber duels of the Star
Wars prequels. But amidst all of this, there was no film that managed to capture the spirit
of the martial arts film better than Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle. Described by Roger
Ebert as “Jackie Chan and Buster Keaton meet Quentin Tarantino and Bugs Bunny”, it’s a
cult classic kung fu comedy film that pays tribute to the great tradition of Hong Kong
action cinema.par Martial arts have a great cultural and historical
significance within China, and the earliest films to utilize martial arts were the popular
wuxia films of the 1920’s and the 1930’s mostly produced out of Shanghai. Wuxia, which translates
to “martial heroes”; often depicted sword wielding vigilantes based on folk heroes like
Wong Fei-hung. Local conflict like the Chinese Civil War and Second Sino-Japanese War shifted
China’s filmmaking capital from Shanghai to Hong Kong, with production companies like
the Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest carrying on the tradition of wuxia filmmaking into
the 1960’s. Featuring early hand-drawn special effects, trampoline and wire assisted acrobatics
with stylized fight sequences, the genre began to decline in popularity as a new school of
martial arts film began to take hold in the form of the kung fu film, a grittier and more
grounded form of action cinema that redefined the genre for a new audience.par
Spearheading this new movement, was Kung fu’s biggest star; Bruce Lee, who gained worldwide
notoriety with films that repeatedly broke local box office records, and with his final
posthumously released film “Enter the Dragon” becoming the highest grossing Chinese film
of that time with a total worldwide gross of $500 million when adjusted for inflation.
He helped to shift depictions of Asian men in film from offensive caricature into full
blown action hero; and his leading role as a minority figure combatting nationalism and
racial prejudice resonated with many other groups who felt marginalized. Despite leading
roles in only four feature films before his death in 1973 at the age of 32, his star power
cemented the kung fu genre as a staple of Hong Kong’s action cinema that gained widespread
popularity throughout the world, so much so that in the wake of Lee’s death it kicked
off a wave of poor imitations that came to be known as “Bruceploitation”, wherein filmmakers
hired actors of similar appearance, or with similar stage names to try and cash in on
his notoriety, with titles that echoed Bruce Lee classics like “Enter the Game of Death”
or “Return of the Fists of Fury.” But this trend would soon die off to make way for an
emerging new Kung Fu icon. par Jackie Chan, with the aid of director/choreographer
Yuen Woo-ping reignited public interest in the kung fu genre with films like “Snake in
the Eagle’s Shadow” and “Drunken Master”, they offered a refreshing comedic take on
the genre that catapulted both to stardom. Jackie Chan found success in the states with
his one of a kind blend of action and comedy in films like Rush Hour and Shanghai Noon,
while Yuen Woo-ping became a world reknowned choreographer for his work on The Matrix Trilogy,
Kill Bill and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. par
Which brings us to Stepen Chow. He became one of Hong Kong’s biggest stars throughout
the 90’s, where he was especially noted for his comedic “mo lei tau” style of humor. Pioneered
by the Hui Brothers in the 1970’s, it’s a slapstick style of comedy that uses a lot
of wordplay, non-sequiturs, absurdist and anachronistic humor that Stephen Chow made
famous with films like All For the Winner and King of Comedy. His film Shaolin Soccer
utilized the same comedic style, and became his biggest success to date, laying much of
the groundwork for his next film, Kung Fu Hustle.par
A film written, produced, directed by and starring Stephen Chow as Sing, a wannabe gangster
in 1930’s Shanghai who grows to become a martial arts master. Heavily inspired by the kung
fu films that Chow had seen growing up, it enlists the help of many of Hong Kong’s cinematic
legends; from Bruce Lee stunt-double turned actor Yuen Wah, or Bruce Leung, a Hong Kong
action star who came out of retirement specifically to appear in the film. Featuring cameos from
a few reknowned Chinese filmmakers, with fight scenes choreographed by the now world famous
Yuen Woo-ping. At every turn the film pays its respects to those who came before, from
the production design of Pig Sty Alley taking notes from the Shaw Brothers classic The House
of 72 Tenants, to the final fight scene depicting Sing in an outfit made famous by Bruce Lee
in Enter the Dragon. It combines elements found in the more grounded kung fu action
of Bruce Lee films, as well as the more fantastical stunt-work of the classic wuxia films of the
60’s, with a comedic overtone that Yuen Woo-ping and Jackie Chan had pioneered decades prior,
all with Stephen Chow’s own unique style added into the mix. par
Action and comedy is a tricky thing to blend properly, and I think Kung Fu Hustle strikes
a perfect balance between the two. Delivering some top notch action choreography that could
belong in any kung fu classic, with a slap-stick style of humor that would make even the Looney
Tunes proud. And while much of Chow’s “mo lei tau” wordplay gets lost in translation,
there’s still plenty of terrific moments for comedy that work regardless of the language
barrier. Often relying on visual sight gags, and a frequent use of mostly outdated CGI
that’s hard to even be mad at considering the satirical nature of the film. When watching
some of the other popular wuxia films of the early 2000’s, like in House of Flying Daggers,
the CGI ends up holding the film back from its full potential, because it just looks
cartoonish and unrealistic, but if anything that cartoonish and unrealistic look feels
like part of Kung Fu Hustle’s charm. There’s also still plenty of good old fashioned wire
effects, and talented stunt performers who sell the fight scenes as well as any of their
more serious counterparts. Take Chow himself, who manages to be simultaneously believable
as the scummy and scheming anti-hero with an excellent sense of comedic timing as well
as the ass-kicking action star that the character will eventually transform into; and performing
most of his own stunt work like the rest of the cast gives him the opportunity to direct
the action with a clarity that’s just not possible when using stunt doubles; something
that’s always helped kung fu stars stand above the rest of the action hero crowd. The ending
result being a film that feels like an empassioned love letter to Hong Kong action cinema. Poking
fun at some of its history, but always with a certain level of respect for its roots.par
All great wuxia stories are essentially superhero stories, and Stephen Chow infuses his film
with a level of wild imagination that I feel most modern superhero movies are lacking,
all on a budget a fraction the size of a big Hollywood blockbuster. And it just knows how
to have a good time, by heightening the reality in certain aspects to add to the fun of it
all, while keeping it grounded enough to still be a story that we care about. While the story
does more or less follows the same template as every other depiction of The Hero’s Journey,
it still manages to feel completely new and refreshing. Which isn’t to say it’s a perfect
film; some characters lack proper development, the final transformation of Sing feels slightly
unearned, but it’s the sort of original film that doesn’t come around very often, and I
wish we got to see more of. par Though I think it was just a unique product
of its time. It was released right in between the dying trend of kung fu cinema that began
to fade in the mid-2000’s, and the birth of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that changed
everything about the modern blockbuster with the release of Iron Man, back when it felt
like more studios were willing to take a risk on a new idea that wasn’t already successful
in another creative medium. But maybe that’s what makes it so special, that there hasn’t
been anything quite like it before or since. par
It’s a one of a kind ride from start to finish, that pays homage to the many martial arts
films that came before, while still managing to carve out its own identity within the genre.
With a memorable cast of characters, some of the best action set pieces that I’ve ever
seen, a terrific original soundtrack, fantastic production design; it’s a film that could
and would not exist without the history leading to it. And while you don’t need to know the
history to appreciate Kung Fu Hustle, I think the experience becomes all the more enjoyable
when you acknowledge the generations of innovators who led the way for filmmakers like Stephen
Chow by pioneering new cinematic techniques, playing with genre blending, and creating
a form of action cinema that made the rest of the world take notice. par
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100 thoughts on “Kung Fu Hustle | A Love Letter to Hong Kong Action Cinema

  1. Hey, thanks so much for watching! Kung Fu Hustle is just a total blast, and has been a favorite of mine for a long time; been wanting to make this video for some time, excited to share it and I hope you all enjoy it!

    If you liked the video and want to help out the channel be sure to head over to nordvpn.com/filmradar and use code FILMRADAR to sign up!

  2. I really admire Stephen Chow acting skills. He knows how perfectly time his face expressions combined with body language to express the characters emotions. I only witch he had acted on more movies.

  3. Some people are bad to deal with people of the world.

    Some people are INHERENTLY bad.

    Some people are good and become bad.

    I liked this movie because sometimes I feel like being bad, but I always REVERT to my nature.

    BUDDHA, bitches!

    LOL.

    That’s 1 reason I liked this movie. BADASS and KICKASS are the other 2 reasons.

  4. check when bud spencer and terrence hill came out.. at the same time bruce lee make his first popular movie

  5. It is 12:28 in the morning. I should go to bed, but, after watching your video, I am going to put my DVD of the movie on (I always watch the Chinese version with English subtitles).

  6. I remember buying this film I think it was back in 2010, and I thoroughly enjoyed it and watched it with a friend who also really liked it.

    The whole "Jackie Chan meets Buster Keaton meets Quentin Tarantino, meets Bugs Bunny" review tagline was what made me snatch it up immediately. The tagline honestly couldn't have been more perfect.🤣

    Definitely an underrated classic ❤ I found it recently in our DVDs and wanted to watch it again.

  7. I wonder what it says about me that I didn't like Kill Bill, the Matrix, or Crouching Tiger but loved this movie.

  8. Great video! And fantastic film. I watched this film when I was 14 and English was still very foreign to me. I remember I lend this movie to a friend and he loved it so much that … He … "Kept it " lol along with a PS2 game that I missed playing 🙁 . Thank you for this review .Brough up a few good memories I had when I was a kid. Thank you.

  9. Hey, I just want to say that I really love your essay. It's well written. Opinions are on point and every sentence matters.

  10. You can't talk about Kung Fu Hustle's homage to Wuxia without talking about Jin Yong's influence on the movie! Jin Yong is probably the most popular Wuxia author in history, and all of his works are still being read, made into films hundred times over, have an entire field of study dedicated to his works, and Chinese as a language uses his stories as references, jokes, and idioms all the time.

    In Kung Fu Hustle, most of the characters are named after famous characters in Jin Yong works and flip their stereotypes on their heads, which are part of the film's humor that's lost in translation. For example, the rent lady and her husband are named after the most popular couple in Jin Yong works, who are known for their beauty and grace. Also, all the fight moves and their names are directly from Jin Yong novels, but with new twists to them that offer a fresh and comedic look to these really famous moves.

    Kung Fu Hustle isn't just paying homage to Wuxia and Kung Fu cinema, but also paying homage to their literary works as well.

  11. This film is gold. Didn't it come out around the same time as Kung-Pao:Enter the first? A similar movie on the surface but pales in comparison across the board. I know many people that would often confuse the two

  12. "If there's no Bruce Lee, there would be no Stephen Chow movies" funny that Chow wanted to be an actor only because he wanna be like Bruce Lee.. they're both the best just in different way

  13. I watched this once as a kid and I can still remember the whole movie, and I can still come back to it anytime in my life, something I would definitely show my kids if we were to talk about Hong Kong cinema. That's how good and enjoyable the movie is.

  14. Main important thing abt ' shaoling soccer & kungfu hustle ' is that.. You never get bored by watching this movie. This is a masterpiece.Even better than all the top superhero movies .. Though its a low budget compare to them.And it has great meaning into it though it is comedy and fun. I'm not Chinese but this two are my fav movie of all time.

  15. i was listening to you with my full attention but that scene at 5:41 just caught me off guard and got me laughing so loudly lmao man I miss this film

  16. I always wanted to see a sequel of kung fu hustle….i honestly enjoy watching it every time and never get bored of it… it's a true masterpiece ❤️

  17. So many good things that we can take from this movie… One of my memorable and Most goosebump scene is when Stephen chow met the silent girl that He used to know when he was a child and the girl explain in body language that He was the one who help her in childhood… The scene is not just a scene that stole the movie for me but also reminder that all good deeds that we did eventhough small Will always be remembered by others so don't stop to doing a good thing..and the music also superb thats why i love Stephen chow so much…

  18. From your video, know I now why I find kungfu hustle so delighted! I realized that this movie has blended the genre so well🤣 thanks for reminded about "genre blending" point

  19. the iron fist guy, kicking guy, bo guy, lion's roar and tai chi guy are several of the most familiar style as i grew up watching kung-fu SERIES, not MOVIES. Such as dragon and heaven sword, condor heroes, stormriders, it was fan services.

  20. Kung Fu movies slowly lost interest because people demanded realism but that's missing the entire point. What modern action movie lacks in comparison with wushu films is great folklore and now superhero movies fill that void yet no one is complaining about their fakeness. At least Kung Fu movies have actors who slave for months working on one scene without the use of cgi.

  21. Love this movie, and have watched it many times. I hunger for more similar work from Stephen Chow, but have not seen anything new come to America.

  22. If you ever heard the dubbing and translation of hongkong movies in my country, hard not to proud because how well perform the dub and how hilarious the translation without feeling out of place at all. A tad difference with western movies dub(even if its just child movies) that still felt inappropriate with my mother tongue till todays

  23. You got it spot on ! When I watched it it brings back memories when I was younger living in Hong Kong.
    Thanks for that .

  24. A very insightful analysis on Kung Fu genre in Hong Kong's film (TV included) industry, indeed! But a minor issue that I have is your Chinese translations, as some of them are quite off unfortunately. I wished that you have consulted a native speaker. For instance:
    1. Bad Day at Black Rock 黑岩喋血计
    2. The Karate Kid 龙威小子
    3. Rush Hour 尖峰时刻
    4. Blade 刀锋战士
    5. Jackie Chan 成龙
    6. Hong Kong Action Cinema 香港动作电影
    7. Bruceploitation 消费李小龙现象
    8. Stephen Chow 周星驰

  25. Can never forget the feeling I had seeing the Landlord and Landlady reveal. The foreshadowing of the Landlady’s loudness, and the Landlord’s feet landing softly on the ground after the blind mercenaries, and the Landlady taking care of the downed masters cos she trusts her husband to curb stomp the bad guys, stepping in only when needed. Their perfect collaboration when it matters. Chills!

  26. Kung-fu Hustle is a masterpiece and one of the finest things I've had the privilege to have seen during my lifetime!!!FACT!!!

  27. Kung fu hustle is a perfect movie not a bad scene in the whole show and genuinely the funniest to date hands down

  28. great video but there is one thing i want to mention is that a lot of fantasy kungfu ideas in kungfu movies and drama are very likely heavily influenced by Jin Yong – a famous kungfu fiction writter. like the lion's roar is straight from his book 'The Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber', and what you said in 7:50 i get it feels unearned but i think its a very Jin Yong moment that chinese audience would find it normal

  29. Kung Fu Hustle is a parody and a homage to Martial Arts movies. It makes fun of Kung Fu movies but at the same time you can see the respect and passion put into it. While it still remains an actual serious Kung Fu movie.

    A good parody is one where it makes fun of the original source yet does so because it respects and loves the original source. Basically you make fun of what you love most.

    If you make fun of something you dislike it’s either going to fall flat because you don’t understand it because you hate it to begin with or it will just come across as spite and mean spirited.

  30. Great video! Kung Fu Hustle is one of my childhood favorite film. I now appreciate it even more after watching this video.
    Especially in how it connects with old school Kung Fu films.

    While the Chinese subtitles is a nice touch, here is just some nitpick I can't help but notice as a Chinese.
    The translation of movie titles are not wrong in terms of meaning, but they do not match the official Chinese name for these films.
    But Chinese movie titles often differ between Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, also there is this whole other topic regarding Traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese which probably can't be explained by one youtube comment. I understand it is hard to get complete right.

    There is also the name of modern stars you probably want to get right.

    Jackie Chan's Chinese name is 成龍(though an artist name), 杰基 陳 is actually a transliteration from 'Jackie Chan', no one calls him that in Chinese.
    Stephen Chow's Chinese name is 周星馳. And 斯蒂芬 周 came from transliterating 'Stephen Chow' back into Chinese.
    However in God of Cookery(食神), another Stephen Chow's film, Stephen plays a character that is named '斯蒂芬周', which is dick joke but it don't translate well in English at all.
    So when I saw '斯蒂芬周' 4:14 pops up on the screen, I end up laughing not sure if putting 斯蒂芬周 there is intended as a joke or not.

  31. perfectly presented, friend, like a love letter to Chow and his team, as he, as you said, made the movie as a love letter to the genre.

  32. a) kfh is great
    b) it's enjoyable without previous knowledge
    c) it does an obvious job of letting you know it's borrowing

    Its intentionally and effectively Looney Tunes

  33. Just finished rewatching it again and specifically looked for a review of it and I gotta say you done good, kid. You done good! 🙂

  34. There's something very special about Kung Fu Hustle that's always stuck with me. A perfect blend of action, comedy, storytelling and film making. A very unique film, and one that stands up to repeat viewings always finding some little detail you didn't before. I know it so well I've watched the original Chinese version without subtitles several times despite not knowing the language!

  35. 7:45 Same thoughts as well. I really like the main character. It took a long while till we see his character just like Luke Skywalker from Star Wars. Though he wasn't the good guy the first time we saw him, which I think was brilliant. The ending transformation was UNEARNED… you nailed the word there… there should have been a sequel. Where he trains to be this wu shu master(I have no idea what i'm talking about) but nope! We only have one movie so let's use cheat codes, let's toggle god mode and there! We defeated the villain. No journey, no development… and we're introduced to this god character. It's kinda brilliant if you think about it… that the main character died when he drew that lollipop and then some god possess his body. Which is tragic considering that the mute girl and him would never meet again. Yes the ending is that they meet again but it's very vague and dreamlike(It's too good to be true that they'll meet again). I would like to believe that the main character died and was replaced by this god. I like how it's disguised as a "good ending" but if you look at it. It is a bad ending like if Luke were to join the dark side.

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