This rowdy martial arts comedy contains fairly relentless violence. Though most of this is cartoonish (speedy, splatty, exaggerated), it might be alarming for young viewers. On another level, the film itself is a transformation, signaling a 21st-century shift in understanding and appreciation of kung fu movies. Sing's transition from boy to man, gangster-wannabe to full-on master occasions an entertaining, convoluted, and quite brilliant run through genres and conventions ranging from Bruce Lee to Looney Tunes.
Set in Canton, China in the 1940s, KUNG FU HUSTLE features action that is both hectic and ferocious (the fights and wirework are choreographed by the brilliant Yuen Wo Ping and Sammo Hung). Its delightful mix of action and comedy -- outrageous, Jackie-Chan-ish, fantastic -- makes such fight scenes little stories all their own. The fighters in defense of Pig Sty Alley include tailor Chiu Chi Ling, "coolie" Xing Yu, and baker Dong Zhi Hua, as well as the Landlord (Yuen Wah) and his greedy wife, the Landlady (Yuen Qiu, a famous kung fu star returning to the screen after almost 30 years). Introduced as supporting-character stereotypes, they soon become part of Sing's emergence process. Their ruthless opponent, Brother Sum (Chan Kwok-kwan), employs a pair of harp players (Jia Kang Xi and Fung Hak On), whose music turns into harrowing physical forces, and then the Beast (Leung Siu Lung), who declares, "I've killed so many, just trying to find a worthy adversary." The Beast's style (Toad Style) creates a neat aesthetic tension with Sing's (Buddha Palm Kung Fu). The film's spoofs and homages are well wrought, stunts and physical jokes brutal, and conventions alternately tired and twisted. Chow pulls all these disparate bits together, in a kung fu movie about kung fu movies.