I just watched an imported DVD of Kung Fu Hustle, the latest movie by Stephen Chow. Chow did Shaolin Soccer, one of the largest Hong Kong cinema hits ever. If you haven't seen it, see it now and don't read this, cause its a really great movie. This movie is his follow-up, a bigger movie with a bigger budget, but still peanuts by Hollywood standards. Shaolin Soccer cost $10 million, and this probably cost twice as much. Of course, doing a lot with (comparatively) little is one of the things Hong Kong movies are known for.
I won't spoil the plot, but the movie revolves around a poor place called Pig Sty Alley, where an austere landlord and landlady reign over a pitiful bunch of dirt-poor tenants. Meanwhile, the biggest gang in town (The Axe Gang, a huge homage to Project A 2 and one of the best fight scenes ever) is beginning to take an interest in their little operation. Of course, there's more to it than that. Shaolin Soccer started as a bunch of scruffy misfits trying to play soccer and ended up an insane, over the top kung-foo-tball (best pun I could come up with) extravaganza. This movie was more of a traditional Hong Kong actioner, though guns are only used briefly. It's just as over the top but it seems less so because the martial arts are in a more commonplace context.
In the end, it comes down to the fights. There are lots, of course, and they are all top notch. Various masters of chop socky talent face off, with lots of slightly cheesy but generally quite well done effects. The narrativeis multithreaded and a little unfocused, but you generally know what's going on, and the translation I was reading was pretty good. The jokes are genuinely funny, though mostly visual, and the characters are well done too - once again if you've seen Shaolin Soccer you know what I'm talking about. Unfortunately Shaolin Soccer was delayed and edited into oblivion for the US release, and ended up with pretty poor attendance... probably because most of the people who would have gone to see it had already rented it or downloaded a copy. I hope this will not be the case for Kung Fu Hustle. Movies like House of Flying Daggers have shown that Westernization is not necessary to sell Asian movies any more; Crouching Tiger and the current anime craze have broken down the walls and changing the content to protect Americans from the original ideas is stupid and patronizing. I'm not holding my breath, though, so in the meantime if you see a copy lying around the video store...definitely whup it up.