The funny, kicky, leave-all-seriousness-at-the-door “Kung Fu Hustle,” premiering at the Smith Opera House on June 2, is the epitome of martial arts movie magic.
Plot? What plot? It's slight, but that hardly matters. Over here are the good folks. Over there are the bad. Let them have at each other.
The movie — sort of a “Lil' Abner's” Dogpatch meets “The Matrix” — is loaded with astonishing fight visuals, hysterical, cartoon-like sight gags, and complicated set pieces that build toward a knockout finish.
It all springs from the gifted brain of Chinese director Stephen Chow, who earlier made the comedy “Shaolin Soccer.”
“Hustle” is proof that every moment Chow isn't shooting movies, he must be watching them.
Like a rap genius, he steals from film after film (“The Untouchables” to “The Shining”) and director after director (Quentin Tarantino to Akira Kurosawa) for “Hustle,” twisting and reshaping his pilferings into one of the funniest and most enjoyable movies of the new century.
There's not much “Hustle” doesn't have. Sweeping crane shots? Got it. Well-used CGI? You bet. Difficult tracking shots? To obtain a yes, just cue the first scene as the camera climbs through the interior of a police station for a noisy introduction to a rotten-toothed, cowboy boot-stompin' baddie.
Everything works. The Wile E. Coyote-ness of the often toon-like action. The homages to Charlie Chaplin's lovable tramp. The soaring soundtrack that, when it isn't twinkling traditional Chinese music, is blaring trumpets and strings like the best Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns.
The setting is mid-20th century China as the notorious Axe Gang is making mincemeat of the Crocodile Gang.
There's that police station, full of cowering cops and the remaining members of the Crocodiles. A seemingly endless squad of Axe Gang members is massing outside on the street, all dressed in black, some sporting “Chim-Chim-Cheree” stovepipe hats and wielding slice-and-dice axes like they're ready for some chopsocky fun.
The music blares. People die. When the Axe Gang celebrates, it makes for a near perfect Tarantino lapdance.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the crowded, rundown housing project Pig Sty Alley, sort of a cross between Dogpatch and “Dogville.” Through mishaps, its poor, seemingly helpless residents, led by a loudmouth landlord (Wah Yuen), with his locks in hairpins, and a louder-mouthed landlady (Qui Yuen), with a roll-her-own cigarette eternally perched in the corner of her mouth, become the objects of the Axe Gang's wrath.
Maneuvering through both camps are homeless, hapless and wannabe bad guys Sing (Chow) and his hefty sidekick (Chi Chung Lam).
What keeps the film's blood pumping is Chow's visual acuity and inventiveness. He can create an intoxicating battle involving two guys, their giant harp and plucks of sharp music. And that loudmouth landlady? She's got lethal lungs that can clear a room of thugs, furniture and the wall covering.
The Smith screens “Kung Fu Hustle” June 2, 3 and 4 at 7 p.m., June 5 at 20 p.m. and June 6 at 7 p.m. Rated R for sequences of strong stylized action and violence, this film has a running time of one hour, 39 minutes. It is in Mandarin and cantonese with English subtitles. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for students and senior citizens. All seats are $3 on Thursday. Call 315-781-LIVE or toll-free 866-355-LIVE for details or to reserve tickets.
The Smith Opera House is located at 82 Seneca Street in Geneva. The Smith is supported, in part, with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, the City of Geneva, the Town of Geneva and by contributions from individual supporters.