Kung Fu [Kung-Fu Hustle] (2004)

(In theaters, April 2005) It’s a well-known truism in the movie business that action translates around the world whereas comedy doesn’t. So you can imagine the mixed reaction when a Chinese action/comedy hybrid like Kung-Fu Hustle makes it to American shores. The most unfortunate thing about the film is that it begins in a very peculiar fashion, slowly mixing low-level comedy with some surprisingly gory violence. Don’t be surprised if, fifteen minutes in the film, you don’t know what to make of it: It’s hard to care about a film that starts out with the brutal shotgun murder of a woman (in the back, no less). But keep at it; despite a few early missteps, Kung-Fu Hustle gradually reveals its glorious insanity, ballooning into a delicious parody of martial-arts films complete with the biggest density of computer-generated special effects I’ve ever seen in a comedy. Writer/Director Stephen Chow isn’t always funny (for every gag that works, another one fails) but the film as a whole improves throughout its entire duration, ending with a dynamite combat sequence that leaves most other kung-fu movies in the dust. If you’ve seen Shaolin Soccer (which shares many of the same actors), you know what to expect: A long buildup followed by an unbelievable payoff. Not for everyone (especially with the early violence), but fans will understand how good it becomes.

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