Kung Fu Hustle (2004)

Rating: B+

Dir: Stephen Chow Sing-Chi
Star: Yuen Qiu, Yuen Wah, Stephen Chow Sing-Chi, Lam Tze-Chung

It’s a startlingly simple idea: take the best FX you can, and use them, not for action or dramatic purposes, but for laughs. While not perhaps new – both The Mask and Kung Pow did something similar – for sheer inventiveness, this trumps both those, landing somewhere between Enter the Dragon and Looney Tunes. Chow the actor largely takes a back seat until the final reel, as a wannabe gangster, whose heart isn’t really in it. He longs to be in the Axe Gang, who have set their sights on taking down Pig Sty Alley, after the residents, led by the local landlady and her husband (Yuen Qui + Wah), humiliate them with unexpected martial-arts skills.

It builds, with immaculate inevitability, to a battle against The Beast, the ultimate kung fu monster…or is he? There are no prizes for guessing every twist half an hour in advance – but you know what? No matter. The results are as entertaining a movie as you could hope to find, with imagination that runs wild and free, yet never quite drowns the simple emotional moments – cliched and predictable they may be, yet still with undeniable impact. And particular credit to Sony Pictures for doing the right thing by Stephen Chow, and giving his film a broad, subtitled release, rather than sitting on a dubbed version for years like certain (Miramax) studios we could mention. For this alone, it’d be worth supporting; that it’s also enormous fun is a huge bonus.