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Kung Fu Hustle

 The cauldron of seething characters huddle in hysterical heroic postures in an indeterminate part of Shanghai to kick some serious butt.

There are no ifs and buts in "Kung Fu Hustle", only non-stop action designed to provide audiences with the kind of martial mayhem that Quentin Tarantino would consider cool, if only he were Chinese.

The action in this febrile flick is so intensely gratuitous you are never very sure what Stephen Chow intends to do.

Is this a homage to the Kung Fu action film? Or does it mock Hollywood's savage actioners from Brian de Palma to Tarantino? Beats me. Beats the baddies.

The violence is so brutal, it's funny. The gangsters known as Axe Men strut around with axes, hacking off legs and limbs to the sound of an invisible rap beat. They are confronted by a ghetto outside the city run by a landlady who's a cross between Humphrey Bogart and Austen Powers, with a little bit of Lucy Liu thrown in.

A lot of the action involves the uncouth landlady whose jeering self-assertions leave a lot of the men in the ghetto looking like impotent imbeciles.

Heroism in "Kung Fu Hustle" is defined not by intellect but simply by the characters' gut-level responses to violent situations.

The aggression isn't just relentless, it's also merciless. The people in the film are largely scruffy souls searching for ways to express themselves in a plot that has more curves than the hero's torso.

Amidst the tumult of grimacing bad guys and unlikely heroes - there's a whole line-up of middle-aged martial arts heroes who suddenly shed their peasantry to fly across the sky in implausible gestures of masterly machismo - there's Chow playing a man on the street with an obese sidekick.

In his character, Chow encompasses both the yin and yang aspects of heroism. He's a fighter who hates violence. He's a lover who spurns the woman who adores him, and a brave heart who hides in traffic-signal enclaves to vent his spleen.

The narrative takes us through Chow's adventures with the baddies until we come to a state of nirvana in the plot that bludgeons audiences into stupefied silence.

"Kung Fu Hustle" is like a deliberately complicated jigsaw puzzle where you suspect, some of the pieces aren't meant to fit in. The characterisations are self-consciously askew. And the pseudo-philosophy is meant to accentuate the action.

You could watch "Kung Fu Hustle", as a straightforward martial arts movie with special effects that boggle the mind and eyes. Going deeper, you encounter craggy passages of uneven transition from violence to metaphysics, which leave you scratching your head.

Remarkably enough, the film's kitschy presentation and hammy performances follow a unique rhythm. The film packages its pyrotechnics with a hawk-eyed regard for the baser instincts of the audience. There's love and raunchy humour colonizing Hang-Sang Poon's zigzagging camera.

Devilishly dizzying, "Kung Fu Hustle" offers the kind of bizarre funky thrills that would make Alfred Hitch***** squirm.

Unlike Hitch*****'s "Psycho", there's no girl murdered in the shower. The psychos in Stephen Chow's film don't take a shower.

Starring:Stephen Chow
Directed by Stephen Chow
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