Dir: Stephen Chow. HK-Chi. 2004. 95mins

The martial arts film to end all martial arts films, Kung FuHustle makes Kill Bill look like a playground scuffle. StephenChow's affectionate salute to the era of Bruce Lee and the Shaw Brothers is ajaw-dropping mixture of blistering fight sequences, slapstick sadism anddelirious black comedy.

Action fans and Chow devotees will be in seventh heaven althoughthe mainstream audiences who embraced Hero will be more resistant to thecartoon qualities and unrepentant overkill of this zestful venture. Chow'sfollow-up to the record-breaking Shaolin Soccer should perform equallywell on its home territory and has the ability to go beyond cult statusinternationally.

A self-confessed fan of 1970s Hong Kong action films in generaland Bruce Lee in particular, Chow has pulled together many of the great namesfrom the period to collaborate on this homage including Matrixchoreographer Yuen Wo Ping, stuntman Yuen Wah and actress Yuen Qiu with thelatter coaxed out of a twenty year retirement. The talents involved make thefilm irresistible for anyone who shares Chow's passion but equally accessibleto those who don't.

Set amidst the chaos of 1930s China, the film depicts a city inthe grip of the ruthless Axe Gang, a collection of hoodlums distinguished bytheir top hats, terrible teeth and proficiency with an axe. The one safe areais a crowded apartment block in Pig Sty Alley. Petty thief Sing (Chow) attemptsto gain acceptance from the gang leader Brother Sum (Chan) by extorting moneyfrom a barber in Pig Sty Alley. The residents rally round to thwart him.

When the Axe Gang decide to pay their own visit to the Alley,three residents unite to defeat a small army of hoodlums. It is the start of awar in which kung fu masters emerge from the anonymity of the crowd, Singlearns his true destiny and everything leads to a final showdown with thelegendary killer known as The Beast (Leung).

Although it may be serviceable, the plot is the least significantelement of Kung Fu Hustle and is merely an excuse to unleash a succession ofaction moves each more elaborate and impressive than the last. Gravity-defyingwire-work, expert choreography and nimble stars allow Chow to create the kindof fights that take the breathe away as people are beaten, shot, chopped topieces and blown to smithereens. The death and destruction is presented withsuch manic glee that it almost becomes inoffensive. Chases proceed at thespeeded-up pace that reminds you of an old Benny Hill sketch, relentless pursuitshave the fury and futility of a Road Runner cartoon, the Axe Gang shuffle andshimmy dancers from West Side Story and the result is part musical, partbloodbath.

The casual violence is also the cause of some truly hilariousmoments that combine with the dark undertones of a Delicatessen.Audiences and critics often complain that too many films are content to followa familiar formula.

Kung Fu Hustle creates a world of its own.

Prod cos: Columbia Pictures Film Production Asia, BeijingFilm Studio, China Film Group Corp Huayi Brothers& Taihe Film Investment Co, China FilmCo-Production Co
Exec prods:
Bill Borden, Zhao Hai Cheng, Wang Zhong Lei, David Hung
Stephen Chow, Po Chu Chui, Jefrrey Lau
Stephen Chow, Tsang Kan Cheong, Lola Huo
Poon Hang Shang
Angie Lam
Prod des:
Oliver Wong
Music: Raymond Wong
Main cast:
Stephen Chow, Yuen Wah, Leung Siu Lung, Chan Kwok Kwan, YuenQiu