Director-star Stephen Chow revs up the chop sockey genre with outrageous humor and action.
By ROGER MOORE
Stephen Chow's martial arts comedies are for people who think Jackie Chan is just too highbrow. Broad, low farces with little story and stuffed with epic fights built on plainly impossible, plainly faked gags, they're still a stitch.
"Kung Fu Hustle," his follow-up to "Shaolin Soccer," mocks and embraces martial-arts movie cliches. He goofs on the elaborate fight choreography in such movies by staging his opening as a brawling, shooting dance number. He summons up more obscure (and comically named) kung fu moves, techniques and schools of study than you can shake a chopstick at.
"Lion's Roar from Kwan Lin School? I thought it was only a myth!"
But it's not just about the laughs. Chow also pours on the action. His latest has as much in common with Quentin Tarantino as it does Jackie Chan.
Set in a mythical 1940s gangster past, "Hustle" is about a feud between the neighborhood called Pig Sty and the Axe Gang -- guys who dress like The Blues Brothers and fight with hatchets.
The Axe Gang sends various assassins to wipe out Pig Sty, and the 'hood keeps discovering new champions within its walls to defend it. The defenders have assorted unnatural and supernatural skills that they use to hang on to their turf.
But each time they think the foe is vanquished, a more deadly hired hand from the Axe Gang shows up. Chow himself is merely the last, and funniest defender.
Learning from a master
Chow has learned a bit from Jackie Chan's Buster Keaton-esque stunts and stumbles. He even plays his heroes, most often, with Keaton's "Great Stone Face," though, in Chow's case -- he's closer to channeling Eastwood than the master clown.
"Ong-Bak," the Thai martial arts thriller that boasts of "no wires" and no special effects, plays it straight with some of the same corny plot elements and characters that Chow's film has. Chow finds that stuff funny and seems to embrace the genre nickname "chop sockey."
Prepare to bust a gut laughing at the lap-lute playing blind killers whose twanging notes hurl daggers at assorted townspeople.
And for goodness sake, don't try this "Hustle" at home.