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Friday, June 17, 2005

Kung Fu classic

Don't miss Kung Fu Hustle. A lot of reviews are calling it a Kung Fu spoof. WRONG. You think at first that it must be a spoof. How else to account for the loony tunes action sequences you see? A seemingly normal person person falls three stories, gets spun like a helicopter blade by a flagstick on the way down, has his head smashed by a following flowerpot, and emerges unhurt. A pathetic wannabe gangster who can't handle a knife without stabbing himself gets chased down the road by a fishwife at road-runner speeds. What else could it be BUT a spoof? It is like the Three Stooges. Moe hits Curly on the head with an axe, they both look agape at the mangled axe-blade, which makes Moe even madder, and Curly runs a way from him in a circle with one stiff leg, "woo-woo-wooh-wooo." But the genius of Kung Fu Hustle is that it is NOT a spoof. As the movie goes on, you realize that everything that is happening is real, that it's about real heroes and real bad guys and impossibly lost souls.

Its real world universe is the universe of the Gong Fu classics, epitomized by Jin Yong's Condor Heroes and Return of the Condor Heroes, where initiates start out to discover the ways of "chi" ("the force") and are led into the arcane world of ever more powerful Gong Fu masters. The difference with Kung Fu Hustle is that the viewer is dumped into the middle of this universe with no initiation, and so it all looks like a joke, until you realize it is not. Any reviewer who can leave the movie still thinking it is a spoof gets zero stars.

Also worth noting: the grotesquely venal Axe Gang is an obvious reference to the Communists, and if the Jin Yong tradition is taken as a guide, the death-crazy Beast is Mao. The conquering hero is quite explicitly Bhuddist (the light side of the force, lit by the light of moral comprehension). Altogether a fabulous story, with fabulous Kung Fu masters. Only what is with the falling down pants? Please don't tell me that Chinese pop culture is importing the absolute worst of black prison gang culture.

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