the lawyer writer

sometimes legal                     sometimes literary                     sometimes not

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Hustle to Kung Fu Hustle


I was at an east village bar talking to a lovely young man in a (nice) vintage suit who spent a good portion of the evening telling me that while his agent thought he as a genius (said twice) he had no respect for people who told him that, and that he would much prefer someone to say "you're crap, but we want to publish you anyway." Now I found him truly precious, and the richness of the contradictions and the material in general could fill a blog post, but I will let it go, because I want to write about something else. To wit:

Go See Kung Fu Hustle.

Now, it is rare that I actually recommend a movie to the world at large, as I think some things are largely dependent on taste and sensitivity. However, it is 2 o'clock in the morning, and I am not sure how much longer I will be awake/able to type, and I am very sure of myself. If you read this blog, for any reason, you should go see Kung Fu Hustle. It is already the best movie of 2005.

It is, unfortunately, the kind of movie that brings out the film major in me, kind of like the creature rising from the Black Lagoon. (or was it Blue Lagoon? Discuss). It really is that kind of movie. While the most interesting thing about Tarantino is his love for Hong Kong action movies (before he became too literal), then it makes sense that there should be a Stephen Chow, a Hong Kong action hero with a love for American movies.

There is about as much plot as there is in a Tom & Jerry cartoon, but there are three groups of people to worry about. There is the murderous Axe Gang, a group of prohibition-era gangsters who dance in Busby Berkeley formation with their weapon of choice, led by a sexily effeminate and ruthless leader. There are the inhabitants of the Pig Sty, the poorest section of town, which has its own group of misfits: bitchy landlady, gay tailor, sexy laborer. Finally, there is small-time hustler Sing (Stephen Chow) and his big puppy-dog sidekick. Sing has learned there is no use to being a nice guy, and wants desperately to be badass in the Axe gang.

The whole movie is essentially a tug of war between these three outfits--or, if you prefer, an elaborate excuse to have the funniest fucking fight scenes on the planet. Think Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, with a sense of humor. Just as you expect it to lapse into sentimentality, it gets cheesily hilarious. When there's romance, it sours. Characters slap the shit out of each other like Warner Bros. cartoons, and the only real disappointment is that an anvil didn't actually drop on someone's head (and that there were no references to the Acme Corporation). It's all about loving American movies, the best things about the Golden age and the modern age of movies: speakeasies, nattily dressed gangsters, Western standoffs, the Three Stooges, The Shining, The Matrix, the leisure-suit Vegas of the 70's, Chuck Jones cartoons, Bugs Bunny, Frank Capra, Buster Keaton, superhero comic books, silent films, Silence of the Lambs, fortune cookies, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Gangs of New York, lots of Quentin Tarantino, glamourous Fred Astaire musicals, broad Scary-Movie slapstick, Chaplin, Roadrunner, Bugs Bunny, Martha Graham, West Side Story, and everything that Bruce Lee movies have taught us about martial arts. It even throws in a telling reference to Greek mythology.

You will like this movie if: 1) you like to discuss/study movies, especially old movies 2) you like Bugs Bunny or Tom and Jerry 3) you like movie martial arts on any level 4)you like movies that are surreal, sublime or silly. Just a warning: like I said, the plot isn't the point. The fights are-- think of them as a mixture of comedy, violence and dance. Both the movie and the fight scenes mix obvious cliches with unknown ideas, cheap puns with filmic philosophy.

I'm actually holding myself back here--there's a lot more I could say about its brilliance. Maybe I just love it because I recognize another film buff at work. But just know this: it is funny, it is unexpected and you'll feel pretty giddy leaving the theater.

Now--did I make the right choice? Should I have written about the self-deprecating genius-dandy sitting in the bar and telling me about the evils of the literary scene? Well, go watch Kung Fu Hustle, and then you tell me.

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