Reviews Stephen Chow's KUNG FU HUSTLE
Plus: WINN-DIXIE and The Muppets Visit Oz!
Thanks to the efforts of
Jackie Chan and character-driven pieces
like the over-praised “Crouching Tiger, Hidden
Dragon,” Hong Kong
cinema has completely broken through into mainstream entertainment in
the United States.
Decades ago it would have been difficult for a movie like Stephen
FU HUSTLE (***, 2004, 102 mins., R; Sony)
to get a release of any kind in the U.S. Now, this thoroughly absurd,
outlandishly imaginative confection from the star-director of
Soccer” seems right at home on the big-screen, where -- in
spite of its
excess -- it offers more colorfully amusing entertainment than most
anything we’ve seen in recent domestic cinema.
Chow’s film is essentially a parody of the HK kung fu opus,
star appearing as a down-on-his-luck loser who -- along with his
overweight sidekick -- attempts to become a member of the nefarious
“Axe Gang” in 1940s China. Chow tries to prove his
worth to the Axe
Gang by assassinating a group of seemingly benign, older folks who live
in a poor section of the city, but instead finds among the bickering
residents a group of legitimate kung fu masters trying to live out of
“Kung Fu Hustle” is indescribable in many respects:
Chow’s movie is a
surreal mixture of wild comedy, slapstick, and self-parody, with some
extremely graphic flashes of violence and gore thrown in along the way.
It can be a jarring experience to watch zany, cartoon-like hyjinks one
moment and then almost Tarantino-esque violence the next, but that
mixture of extremes is -- if nothing else -- one of the unpredictable
elements in Chow’s film.
This is a movie where heroes are good, bad guys are despicable, love
can be summed up by a lost lollipop, and chases virtually take the form
of the Road Runner and Coyote going to head-to-head. There are also
plenty of special effects, including a thrilling sequence involving a
pair of Axe Gang assassins who try and take down our heroes, and a
poetic ending that has a bit of emotion and heart behind it.
“Kung Fu Hustle” isn’t a film for
everyone, but it’s unique,
consistently entertaining and creative in its action and antics. Some
of the violence may be off-putting (even though Sony trimmed some of it
for its R-rated American release), but there’s no denying the
one feels while watching its story line play out. Recommended!
Sony’s Special Edition DVD offers up some solid special
features with a
bit of a kick. A few brief deleted scenes are included with outtakes
and bloopers, plus a subtitled commentary with Chow and members of his
cast. There’s also a fun, hour-long Making of TV special
subtitled) and an interview with Chow and martial arts genre expert Ric
Meyers about the creation of the film.
Visually, the 2.40 widescreen transfer is excellent, with strong colors
and little grain. The Chinese soundtrack is available with English
subtitles in 5.1, while a predictably zanier, English-dubbed track is
also available in 5.1 as well. Interestingly, some profanity was
apparently added to the American version, as the English subtitles
indicate alternate (and occasionally less profane) language in the
original Chinese dialogue.
New This Week
WINN-DIXIE (***, 106 mins). 2005, PG, Fox. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Two
commentary tracks; a pair of featurettes; gag reel; 1.85 Widescreen,
Full-Screen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.
Earnest, entertaining family film, based on Kate DiCamillo’s
children’s book, about the bond that develops between a
young girl (Annasophia Robb) and a furry, tall pooch she dubs
Winn-Dixie. Jeff Daniels essays her father in this superior film from
director Wayne Wang and screenwriter Joan Singleton.
“Winn-Dixie” may have a predictable structure, but
kids will love the
story and adults will appreciate the excellent performances turned in
by veterans like Daniels, Cicely Tyson, and Eva Marie Saint, while a
top-notch crew includes cinematographer Karl Walter Lindenlaub and
composer Rachel Portman, whose score strikes just the right note of
tenderness and nostalgia.
Fox’s DVD includes two commentaries (one by young Robb,
Daniels and producer Trevor Albert), plus a gag reel, behind-the-scenes
featurette, and a “Diamond in the Ruff” segment on
dog training. The
1.85 widescreen transfer is just fine, the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound
likewise satisfying, and there’s a full-screen version also
the disc’s flip side.
MUPPETS' WIZARD OF OZ (**, 100 mins). 2005, PG, Disney. DVD SPECIAL
FEATURES: Outtakes; Making Of featurette; Extended Quentin Tarantino
interview; Full-Screen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.
Since Jim Henson’s untimely passing, the Henson Company has
uneven assortment of Muppet theatrical and TV films to decidedly mixed
The wonderful “Muppet Christmas Carol” was as
satisfying as any of the
Muppet movies produced prior to Henson’s death, but
Treasure Island” was an endless cinematic sojourn matched
only by the
relative inanity of the forgettable “Muppets From
Space.” After a few
years off (while the Henson group’s ownership passed from one
to another), Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo and the gang popped up
in the terrible TV film “It’s a Very Merry Muppet
which sought to be “adult” by adding some bad
language into the Muppet
vocabulary (sure, the Muppets may have always been a bit
they were never profane!).
Their sophomore made-for-TV outing, “The Muppets Wizard of
only fares marginally better, though Disney’s DVD helps out a
extending the running time to 100 minutes (I’m guessing it
been 10-15 minutes shorter when it aired on ABC earlier this spring).
This mostly dull fantasy stars Ashanti as Dorothy -- here recast as an
aspiring Kansas diva who wants to break out of her trailer-park home
and waitressing job so she can entertain the masses. Along the way,
though, a tornado transports her into a magical land where she meets up
with all the principals from L. Frank Baum’s novel, including
Scarecrow (Kermit), The Tin Man (Gonzo), and the Cowardly Lion
(Fozzie), all of whom try and avoid the nefarious Wicked Witch of the
West (Miss Piggy).
Under the direction of Kirk R. Thatcher (“Very Merry Muppet
Christmas”), “Muppets’ Wizard of
Oz” offers only intermittent
pleasures. The laugh quotient is surprisingly low in the Debra
Frank-Steve Hayes-Tom Martin-Adam Goldberg script, and the star cameos
by the likes of Quentin Tarantino serve only to drag the story down.
What’s worse, the music -- a primary asset in the original
movies -- is completely disposable, with bland songs and a
disappointing score from Michael Giacchino both failing to liven up the
Disney’s DVD offers a decent full-screen transfer with 5.1
Digital sound (blame the somewhat drab cinematography on DP Tony
Westman). Extras include a few bloopers, a Making Of featurette, and an
extended interview with Tarantino as conducted by Pepe, which -- like
the Q-Man’s appearance in the movie -- wears out its welcome
NEXT TIME: SIN CITY and More as we wrap up August on DVD! Don't
to drop in
on the official Aisle Seat Message
any emails to the
we'll catch you