Filmbusu Treeview – Kung Fu Hustle

Flimbusu Treeview

Filmbusu Treeview is a weekly collaboration between Tembusu Treehouse and Tembusu College’s Filmbusu, where Treehouse writers give their take on Filmbusu’s pick of the week.

General Information

Film: Kung Fu Hustle

Director: Stephen Chow

Producers: Stephen Chow, Chui Po-chu, Jeffrey Lau

Screenwriters: Stephen Chow, Huo Xin, Chan Man-keung, and Tsang Kan-cheung

Cast: Stephen Chow (Sing), Danny Chan (Brother Sum), Yuen Wah (landlord of Pig Sty Alley), Yuen Qiu (landlady of Pig Sty Alley), Eva Huang (Fong), Bruce Leung (Beast)


Brief Overview:

Kung Fu Hustle is a 2004 Hong Kong martial arts comedy film directed, co-written and co-produced by Stephen Chow, who also stars in the lead role. The film was extremely well-received and became a box office hit in both Asia and the United States. It garnered numerous awards, scooping up 5 Golden Horse Awards (including Best Director and Best Film), 6 more at the Hong Kong Film Awards (including Best Picture) and earned a nomination at the British Academy Film Awards and a Golden Globe nomination. It was also the highest-grossing film in the history of Hong Kong till 2011.


Summary Analysis:

It is Shanghai in the 1930s and gangs are rife, holding considerable power over society, including law enforcement. One of the most prominent and feared gangs is the Axe Gang. Led by Brother Sum, a ruthless and intimidating figure, it boasts a whole contingent of literal axe-wielding hooligans in black suits.

Sing, a young man who harbours a past of humiliation and inadequacy, seeks to restore his confidence by joining The Axe Gang, though not without pretending to be a member of the gang first. By sheer coincidence, he brings the gang’s attention to an otherwise unnoticed and decrepit residential cluster known as Pig Sty Alley. The film then charts Sing’s attempt to prove himself worthy of The Axe Gang and his process of self-discovery as he interacts with people in the Alley and someone from his past.

Balancing the vibrancy and seediness of urban Shanghai – complete with colourful neon signs and expensive nightclubs—with the rundown and humble locale of Pig Sty Alley, Chow cleverly subverts the commonplace notion of mundanity often associated with nondescript communities. Before the story is set in motion, some personalities already emerge from the social landscape of the Alley: the village fool, the demanding and fearsome landlady and her potentially philandering husband. Others, such as the tailor, a labourer and a noodle-shop owner skirt the periphery of our interest, receive only a few seconds of screen time, but  the use of intriguingly composed shots hints that there might be more to them than meets the eye.

The arrival of Sing and his heavyweight sidekick Bone then sets off a chain of events which intermingle the lives of the Alley’s residents with that of the Axe Gang. Slowly, as the neighbourhood of the Alley comes under threat, it unfolds to reveal hidden elements which have ripple effects in the martial arts community. This peeling away of the layers of the Alley commune is one of the gripping and engaging aspects of the film as characters continually surprise the audience.

To be more precise, Kung Fu Hustle is an action flick, a mystery novel and comedy rolled into a fast-paced, tightly-woven package. Chow deftly presents a well-amalgamated blend of jarring components: where the beauty and elegance of kung fu is brought to the fore alongside gore and brutality, where scenes of violence can suddenly veer into slapstick comedy and where  relationships can be built on both tenderness and utter disdain.

However, the film has its shortcomings as well. Being extremely plot-driven, the film falls short on any form of proper character development. The emotional depths of the characters, especially Sing, are not explored sufficiently, making some of them appear less convincing and believable. That being said, the supporting characters, in particular the landlady (played by Yuen Qiu), hold together the comedic aspect of the film commendably, adding some form of coherence and consistency in a film where events happen so quickly and .

Kung Fu Hustle might not have the most exciting of plots, nor the most intellectually stimulating and emotionally charged of storylines. Despite this, it offers a unique and quirky mix of everything from the budding shoots of romance to assassinations, from smoothly shot fight sequences to awkwardly framed scenes and dialogue. This makes it a memorable film that is difficult to watch without an endearing grin.


Who should watch:

Anyone who is game for a different type of martial arts film and wants a quick bite of laughter and entertainment.


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About the Author

Loves poems and good wine, more so when coupled together. Dreams of raising sheep in a archetypal farmhouse on a hill. Also hopes to write better bios.

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