Films, like any form of art, are created in order to evoke a cavalcade of emotions, but there are generally just three ways in which movies can affect me: entertain, annoy, devastate. And this week, I experienced all three reactions. Intensely.
Filmmaker Stephen Chow is quite possibly the result of a drunken threesome involving Jackie Chan, Quentin Tarantino, and Wile E. Coyote. The latest movie from Hong Kong cinema's hottest hyphenate (writer-director-actor) is Kung Fu Hustle, a relentless Acme anvil of a film that is thoroughly steeped in Hollywood history and is the most fun you'll have in the dark with a bucket of popcorn in your lap and surrounded by strangers. Or maybe not. But I'm really not here to judge you.
Kung Fu Hustle takes place in Pig Sty Alley, the studio backlot version of a tenement populated by movie stereotypes (slimy slumlord, his ballbusting wife, fey tailor) and under the thumb of the nefarious Axe Gang. One day a couple of strangers roll into town, and these wannabe gangsters unwittingly cause the wrath of the Axe Gang to rain down on Pig Sty Alley, though its simple denizens seem to be up to the challenge.
It's initially hard to tell the good from the evil here, though I don't mean to convey that this is some complicated Flying Daggers-type flick --- the computer-generated effects make no attempt at reality, and the cartoony bits are just that, complete with an oversized, snake-bitten kisser and a Road Runner-type chase that is as accomplished as it is ridiculous. My only problem with Kung Fu Hustle was the unnecessary romance, which wasn't so much a plot point as a shorthand way of telling us something we need to know and forcing us to leave the theater with a smile. I would have done that anyway.
And for those who don't care about plot or cinematography or performances, here are three little words that will make the heart of any action fan flutter: Yuen Wo Ping. The revered fight choreographer (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; The Matrix) is in charge of a cast that includes at least two famous faces from Asian cinema, Yuen Qiu in a deceptively slapstick turn as the profane, chain-smoking landlady, and Yuen Wah as her husband, who we are pleased to learn can hold his own.
Kung Fu Hustle is set up like a spaghetti Western, albeit one with splashes of Hollywood musicals, a little Mamet-speak, and some dazzling, bloody skirmishes --- a Tarantino film, basically. But since Tarantino freely admits to borrowing from Hong Kong cinema, we should be on the lookout for signs that the universe is collapsing in on itself.
Normally, I think dining on your fellow man is hilarious. Delicatessen, Ravenous --- it's the perfect way to illustrate what lies in our dark hearts and the lengths to which some people will go. But Anders Thomas Jensen's The Green Butchers, another dark comedy about inadvertent cannibalism, was unfortunately too dark and too irritating to be funny.
The perpetually deadpan Mads Mikkelsen (Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself) stars as Svend, a sweaty control freak who decides to open his own butcher shop with his stoner friend Bjarne (Nikloaj Lie Kaas). Initially business is nonexistent, until an electrician gets accidentally locked in the walk-in freezer and he needs to be disposed of. But why didn't Svend just... never mind. The chicky-wickies, as the delicious cuts of electrician are called, get really popular, though the ingredients have run out. What to do?
There are other subplots about Bjarne's comatose twin and the quirky love interest who works at the cemetery (naturally), but when characters make the most inexplicable choices possible and behave in ways that normal people don't, I get really frustrated. I know it's all designed to fuel a plot and tell a story, but a little truth might be nice.
Head On is a brutal, messy piece about love and sacrifice between two Turkish immigrants in Germany that ripped my heart out and showed it to me. It's easily the best film I've seen this year, but it will probably --- and sadly --- get lost amidst other filmgoing choices and sunny weather, so I'm praying for rain and strategic blackouts. You'll thank me later.
Cahit and Sibel meet at the hospital after their respective suicide attempts --- him via car crash, her via wrist slashing. Though they don't get along, Sibel proposes marriage to Cahit to get away from her strict family, and Cahit, who was unable to save someone in his past, puts his death wish aside to help Sibel. He's got about 20 years on her and a sometime girlfriend, and she just wants to dance and screw and do drugs without repercussions from her family. But has there ever been a movie marriage of convenience that actually turned out to be convenient?
The performances of Birol Unel as Cahit and Sibel Kekilli as Sibel start off with all the exaggerated drama of people who hope to kill themselves in the bloodiest ways possible and then settle into a quiet acceptance of each other and their chosen destinies. It leaves you rooting for them and hoping they will realize what we already know before it's too late.
But as the tears streamed down my face during the closing credits of Head On, it made me think that getting emotionally wrecked so people will know whether to part with eight bucks may not be the healthiest way to make a living.
Kung Fu Hustle (R), directed by Stephen Chow, opens Friday, April 22. Culver Ridge, Pittsford Cinema, Greece Ridge 12 | The Green Butchers (R), opens Friday, April 22. Little Theatre | Head On (R), opens Friday, April 22. Little Theatre