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I’ll be perfectly honest with you—the films of Stephen Chow are still relatively new to me. My prior experience of his work runs to the 2001 comedy footballing movie, Shaolin Soccer, which hit some, but not all of the right notes. In 2004 Chow unleashed his latest comedic ride upon the world, this time applying his talents to the martial arts genre. That movie was Kung Fu hustle, which went on to become the highest grossing Hong Kong movie of all time, surpassing even Shaolin Soccer at the local box office. Now Sony brings Chow’s latest film to region two DVD courtesy of this feature-packed release.

Kung Fu Hustle

Film


Kung Fu Hustle stars Stephen Chow as Sing, a wannabe gangster who runs various unsuccessful scams with the aid of his rotund sidekick, Bone (Lam Chi-chung). One day they wander into a rundown housing complex named ‘Pig Sty Alley’ with the intention of conning the townsfolk into thinking that they are members of the fearsome ‘Axe Gang’. When this ‘hustle’ backfires spectacularly, our chancers find themselves caught in the middle of a war between the residents of Pig Sty Alley and the real Axe Gang.

As it happens, several of Pig Sty Alley’s residents have ‘unusual’ martial arts prowess, and band together to give the Axe Gang a sound thrashing before sending them on their merry way. This prompts the leader of the Axe Gang, Brother Sum (Chan Kwok-kuen), to resort to extreme measures by enlisting the help of the Beast (Leung Siu-lung), a legendary fighter of incredible power. In order to prove himself worthy of admission to the Axe Gang, Sing is entrusted with the task of releasing the Beast from captivity, but this one act could just prove to be the biggest—and last—mistake of Sing’s life.

What follows is basically a series of elaborate wire-fu assisted fights, occasionally punctuated by liberal doses of Chow’s particular brand of slapstick humour (such as a surrealistic Road Runner chase sequence, in which Sing is pursued at inhuman speeds by the landlady of Pig Sty Alley). This is all very silly stuff, but everything about the film is remarkably stylish: costumes, set design, special effects and martial arts choreography—it is all wonderfully conceived and realised. At times the movie plays like a comic book come to life, with the vibrant, Dick Tracy-esque neon underworld of the Axe Gang and the bizarre computer aided fights and their truly impossible feats of superhuman endurance and dexterity.

Kung Fu Hustle
The film’s only real weaknesses are the periods where the slapstick becomes too much to handle, and a rather thin romantic subplot involving a girl from Sing’s childhood. The first of these complaints can be attributed to my dislike of said form of comedy (especially when it’s overused), while the second is only a complaint because it’s not used to its full potential. With that said, Kung Fu Hustle is still an enjoyable, if slightly flawed movie.

Video


Kung Fu Hustle arrives with an anamorphically enhanced transfer at the film’s theatrical aspect of approximately 2.40:1. As one would expect from a relatively recent release of the most successful Hong Kong film ever, the transfer is very pleasing indeed. The film has a beautifully varied colour palette, which is represented particularly well on this DVD. Be it the muted colours of Pig Sty Alley, the purple-tinged skyline of the city at night or the garish neon signs of the club district, everything is exceptionally well-rendered. Black levels are also very pleasing, with fine shadow detail during the darker scenes. When compared to the region three release, this transfer appears to be ever-so-slightly brighter, but it’s marginal at best. Some scenes are a little soft for my liking, but this is really only nit-picking. All-in-all this is a very nice effort from Sony, which is something I don’t find myself saying as often as I’d like.

Audio


Sony has seen fit to give us Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks in both the original Cantonese and dubbed English. I’ll start with the dub, just so I can get it out of the way. Do not listen to it, ever! Seriously, it has to be the worst dub I’ve heard in quite some time. It sounds like they went down to the local pub, rounded up a bunch of untrained punters and asked them to do the job. It really is quite shocking. Anyway, now that’s over with, let’s move on to the ‘real’ track.

Kung Fu Hustle
The original Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 track is actually very good. There’s plenty of discrete action from the outset, with the various sound effects (‘whacky’ and otherwise) all adding to the experience. The film’s excellent and atmospheric score is also well represented in the mix, distributing itself into the rears during the more dramatic moments. Dialogue is also nicely balanced—never becoming lost amidst the action—and bass is also powerful when it needs to be. A good example of all these elements working in tandem is the first appearance of the Axe Gang. The ominous music and the thunderous footsteps that announce their arrival really do set the standard for the rest of the film to live up to—and it does so admirably.

Regrettably the DTS track found on the region three release is absent from the disc, but there’s really not a lot to chose between the two and most viewers will be more than happy with the Dolby effort. The disc also includes an audio descriptive track, which unfortunately uses the English dub when the narrator isn’t, well, narrating. Once again, the quality of the narration isn’t the best, and I could imagine becoming quite irritated with the guy’s voice by the end of the film (but then I’m a grumpy sod). Still, it is nice that these tracks are included for the ‘visually impaired’.

Extras


The supplemental material for this release is basically replicated from the two-disc region three Ultimate Edition, give or take a few minor things. Thankfully this means that Kung Fu Hustle arrives with a fine selection of bonus material. First up is a commentary track from Stephen Chow, Lam Chi-chung, Chan Kwok-kuen and Tin Kai-man, presented in Cantonese with optional English subtitles. The track is perhaps best described as anecdotal, as it has a tendency to wander into the irrelevant at times. Still, this is not to say that it’s a bad track—far from it—just that it often lacks focus. There’s still plenty of information to be found here for fans of the film and Chow alike. The only thing that detracted slightly from the experience was down to my own limitations. I enjoy listening to commentary tracks while driving or in the background while drifting off to sleep, so having to concentrate on reading subtitles was a bit off-putting at times. Still, as I said, this shortcoming is my own.

Kung Fu Hustle
Next up we have a ‘Behind the Scenes of 'Kung Fu Hustle’ featurette that runs for an impressive forty minutes or so. The featurette is hosted by Lam Chi-chung (Bone) and Chan Kwok-kuen (Brother Sum) and covers everything from casting and production design to action choreography and special effects. There are also a number of trivia sections that, as the hosts are keen to point out, offer no prizes. I enjoyed the featurette for the interesting snippets of information about the production and the cast and crew interviews, but the hosts did get on my nerves after a while.

Two deleted scenes follow, although they add very little to the proceedings. The first, ‘Pig Sty Community Meeting’, adds a little more back-story to the characters of the landlord and landlady, as well as an amusing moment from the scrawny little kid who was washing himself using the water pump near the beginning of the film. ‘Meeting Brother Sum’ comes next, and sees Sing entering the highly stylised underworld of the Axe Gang. Both scenes are presented in non-anamorphic widescreen and accompanied by the ‘Axe Gang’ music, which is actually a little distracting.

Ric Meyers’ interview with Stephen Chow runs for a little under thirty minutes and is thankfully (for me) conducted in English. While the interview is respectable enough for the most part, Meyers is a little patronising for my liking. He also needs to do his homework a little better, as there were a couple of instances where he got his facts wrong or completely mispronounced the names of the actors. You wouldn’t catch Bey Logan doing that. Still, there are some interesting titbits to be learned from Chow himself.

Outtakes and bloopers come next, and follow the usual format for this kind of bonus supplement. They’re presented in rough, non-anamorphic format, and provide a few chuckles, if not belly laughs. I think outtakes tend to play better if one can understand the particular nuances of the language being spoken, which unfortunately wasn’t the case for me.

A series of fourteen TV spots are next on the agenda, followed by an international poster exploration gallery. The TV spots are a mixture of Asian and American, with the latter managing to completely misrepresent the movie. I’m not the biggest fan of still pictures, but it was fairly interesting to see the different ways in which the film was marketed around the world. Wrapping things up are a series of trailers for other Sony pictures, namely Hitch, D.E.B.S. and Layer Cake.

Kung Fu Hustle

Overall


It may be a cliché, but if my own household is anything to go by Kung Fu Hustle will be a film that you’ll either love or hate. My other half wanted to walk out of the cinema when we went to see it, which was especially annoying as I got really into it. Some of the humour still leaves me a little cold—this is true of most Chinese comedies I’ve watched—but there can be no denying the brilliance of the cinematography, score and action choreography. The film looks and sounds wonderful, with highly stylised set-pieces that put most Hollywood action films to shame. Sure it’s a little bit eccentric at times, but overall it’s a hugely enjoyable ride.

As for the disc itself, well Sony’s presentation of Kung Fu Hustle is top-notch. The transfer really is rather well done (and I’ve been critical of Sony releases in the past), audio is extremely well handled, and the supplemental features are far beyond anything I expected to see on the UK release. If you’re a fan of the film there’s really nothing to prevent you from buying this disc, while fans of Asian films in general should also get a kick out of Kung Fu Hustle. I’d even go as far as to recommend the film as an introduction to the delights of Asian cinema as the story isn’t particularly convoluted or heavy going.


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