Kung Fu Hustle (2004)
Directed by Stephen Chow
After achieving commercial success with Shaolin Soccer, Columbia Pictures Film Production Asia began to develop Kung Fu Hustle in 2002. Although the film features the return of a number of retired actors from 1970s Hong Kong action cinema, it is in stark contrast to other martial arts films around the same time that have made the biggest impact in the West, such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero.
The cartoon style of the movie, accompanied by traditional Chinese music, is often cited as its most striking feature.
The film was released on December 23, 2004 in China and on January 25, 2005 in United States. It received extremely positive reviews, with Rotten Tomatoes giving it a 90% fresh certificate and Metacritic 78 out of 100. A commercial success (grossing USD$17 million in United States and USD$84 million in foreign countries.), Kung Fu Hustle was the highest-grossing film in the history of Hong Kong and the tenth highest-grossing foreign language film It was also the highest-grossing foreign language film in the United States in 2005. Kung Fu Hustle won numerous awards, including Hong Kong Film Awards and Golden Horse Awards. The film revitalized media interest in the franchise, and a sequel Kung Fu Hustle 2 is due for release in 2010.
Turmoil grips Shanghai in the 1940s. Various gangs vie for power, the most feared of which is The Axe Gang, led by the infamous Brother Sum and aptly named after its weapon of choice. In the absence of law enforcement, people can live peacefully only in poor areas which do not appeal to gangsters. An example is Pig Sty Alley, a tenement home to people of various trades, run by a lecherous landlord and his domineering wife. One day, two troublemakers, Sing and Bone, come to the alley impersonating members of the Axe Gang in order to command respect. This fails miserably and Sing's antics attract the real gang to the scene. In the massive brawl that ensues, the gangsters are defeated by three tenants who are actually powerful martial arts masters: Coolie, Tailor and Donut.
After the fight, Sing and Bone are apprehended by Brother Sum for causing trouble and publicly humiliating the Axe Gang. The two narrowly escape death when Sing impresses Sum with his lockpicking skill. Sum tells them that if they kill just one person, they will be accepted to join the gang. The next day the duo return to Pig Sty Alley to murder the Landlady, but comically fail due to ineptitude. The two part ways and narrowly escape from the furious Landlady. Sing is badly injured and finds himself in a traffic control pulpit; apparently "working" off his injuries, he pounds the steel sides and floor with unbelievable force, deforming the solid metal with deep handprints. After he has fully recovered, he rejoins Bone but has no memory of his mysterious healing.
Sing and Bone lament their failure on the streets and Sing describes his childhood. He spent his meagre life savings to buy a Buddhist Palm manual from a beggar with the intention of "preserving world peace". He practiced his skills, but when he tried to defend a mute girl from bullies trying to steal her lollipop, he is beaten and urinated on. Sing concludes that good guys never win and decides to become a bad person. After telling his story, the duo then steal ice cream from a street vendor, laughing maniacally as they escape from her on a tram.
Angered by his gang's defeat, Brother Sum hires the Harpists, a pair of skilled assassins who fight using a magical Guqin. They strike Pig Sty Alley at night as Coolie, Tailor and Donut are preparing to depart, having been evicted for antagonising the gang. The three are quickly overwhelmed, prompting the Landlord and Landlady, revealed to be Kungfu masters, to intervene. Although the killers and the Axe Gang are driven off, the three evictees suffer fatal injuries. The Coolie is decapitated, the Tailor dies from severe stab wounds, and Donut dies from a sustained injury. The Landlord and Landlady evacuate Pig Sty Alley out of concern for their tenants' safety.
The following day, after being humiliated and pummeled by a clerk he had previously antagonised, Sing mugs the female ice cream vendor from the earlier scene. She is revealed to be the mute girl from his childhood whom he had vainly tried to defend. He recognises the old lollipop she offers him as a token of her gratitude, but becomes upset, rebuffing her and berating Bone. Later, while despairing in the gutter, he is picked up by the Axe Gang and joins their ranks. Brother Sum, having earlier witnessed Sing's ability to quickly pick locks, instructs him to sneak into a mental asylum to free a notorious assassin, the Beast, the Ultimate King of Killers.
Brother Sum is initially skeptical that Sing has freed the right man because of the Beast's flippant attitude and sloppy appearance, but is ultimately convinced when he stops a bullet between his fingertips. Immediately afterward, the Beast approaches the Landlord and Landlady, who have come to Sum's casino. Exchanging introductions, Landlady explains that the good cannot coexist with the bad, moving Sing and changing him for the better. The Beast, Landlord and Landlady then engage in fierce battle and, using a giant funeral bell as a megaphone to amplify the Landlady's Lion's Roar, the couple nearly defeat the more powerful Beast. His desperate move, however, successfully pins them in mutual joint locks. Sing, stimulated by his newfound righteous nature, approaches the Beast and smashes his head with a table leg. The Beast angrily retaliates, pulverising Sing. Fortunately, Sing is spirited away to safety by the Landlord and Landlady when the Beast's back is turned. The Beast casually kills Brother Sum when rebuked and declares himself undefeatable.
Back in the Alley, Sing, wrapped head-to-toe in bandages and treated with Chinese medicine, undergoes metamorphosis. He quickly recovers from his wounds, and his latent potential as a Kungfu genius is realised. He engages the Axe Gang and the Beast, fending off the gangsters with ease. However, the Beast's Toad Technique sends Sing flailing high into the sky, where Sing realises how to wield the Buddhist Palm and dives back downwards with his palm outstretched and body ablaze. He creates a giant hand-shaped crater in the ground and easily subdues the Beast's last move. The Beast concedes defeat, and Sing calmly offers to make the Beast his student; weeping in gratitude, he kneels at Sing's feet and calls him "master".
Some time later, Sing and Bone open a candy store that specialises in lollipops. When the mute ice cream vendor walks by, Sing goes out to meet her. The two see each other as their childhood selves and run happily into the shop. Outside, the same beggar who sold Sing the Buddhist Palm manual offers a selection of martial arts manuals to a boy eating a lollipop.