Kung Fu Hustle
Dir. Stephen Chow; writ. Chow, Tsang Kan Cheong, Xin Huo, Chan Man Keung; feat. Chow, Wah Yuen, Chan Kwok Kwan, Yuen Qui (R)
| A kick-ass musical from the director of Shaolin Soccer makes kung fu a feel-good affair.|
After introducing American audiences to his comedy and action finesse with Shaolin Soccer, director Stephen Chow returns to full form in the martial arts comedy Kung Fu Hustle.
Unlike American-made spoofs on the genre, such as Steve Oedekerk's 2002 Kung Pow: Enter the Fist or even 1997's Beverly Hills Ninja starring the late Chris Farley, Hustle charms the viewer with sillness without treating itself like a second-hand version of its Asian predecessors.
Set in pre-revolutionary China, Hustle finds Sing (Chow), a petty thief, and his wide-body sidekick (Chi Chung Lam) pretending to be part of the elite and feared Axe Gang so they can steal money from a lowly neighborhood known as Pig Sty Alley. When the real Axe Gang infiltrates the ghetto with plans to overtake the poor district, the residents, led by a screechy landlady and three enigmatic kung fu experts, must protect themselves from the slickly dressed, hatchet-toting posse.
Leading the gang is Brother Sum (Kwan), whose dance steps are reminiscent of actor Michael Madsen in Reservoir Dogs boogeying to the Stealer's Wheel song Stuck in the Middle with You just before he cuts off Marvin Nash's ear. Kwan's character is hyper and hip, a good match for the peppiness and hilarity of this 95-minute special effects romp.
Through non-stop action and dance sequences, director Chow is able to combine the satirical perspective of such films as Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill, The Matrix, and Spider-Man with the mad-cap fun of Looney Tunes cartoons. Although the slapstick violence is piled on very thickly, the bizarre fights and stylish slum atmosphere will keep interest at a high even if you are not a fan of Bruce Lee films like Fist of Fury or Enter the Dragon. It's definitely not as poetic as the spin kicks in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or House of Flying Daggers but, instead, achieves its own level of eccentric entertainment.
The Ring Two
Dir. Hideo Nakata; writ. Ehren Kruger; feat. Naomi Watts, Simon Baker, David Dorfman, Elizabeth Perkins, Sissy Spacek (PG-13)
| Investigative journalist (Watts) and son (Dorfman) can't hide from The Ring's vengeful ghost girl, who wants to inhabit the boy's body in The Ring Two.|
Japanese horror, or "J-horror" as it's come to be called by the industry, has changed the face of scary movies since Gore Verbinski's 2002 The Ring. A remake of the 1998 Japanese horror film Ringu, directed by Hideo Nakata and based on the Koji Suzuki novel, The Ring successfuly translated the highest-grossing horror film in Japanese history into a financially outstanding, stylized American nightmare.
Since then, such films as The Grudge, a remake of the Japanese film Ju-On: The Grudge, have found a lucrative welcome in American theaters, paving the way for a forthcoming onslaught whose troops include Walter Salles' Dark Water, a remake of the 2002 Japanese horror film Honogurai mizu no soko kara, and The Grudge 2, which follows 2003's Ju-On: The Grudge 2.
The Ring Two is the first American sequel, and is directed by Nakata, who also helmed 1999's Ringu 2. The second installment begins six months after the first one ended, with Naomi Watts reprising her role as panicky investigative journalist Rachel Keller. At the end of The Ring, Rachel and her son Aidan (David Dorfman, who still looks like he is 9 years old) make a copy of the videotape, thus saving themselves from the curse of a murdered little girl named Samara. "But what about the person we show it to? What happens to them?" are Aidan's last words as the credits roll.
Three years later the question is answered when the videotape falls into the hands of residents in the small town of Astoria, Oregon. Hoping to start a new life away from the terrors of Seattle, Rachel and Aidan move away from the big city and take refuge in, you guessed it, a small town. Somehow they end up in the same municipality as the cursed tape, but Rachel quickly ends the nightmare, or so she thinks, by burning it in one of the earliest scenes. Unlike The Ring, however, The Ring Two is not about a mysterious videotape that scares people to death when they view it. Instead, the sequel focuses on Samara, the little girl who was drowned in a well by her psychotic mother. Two converts the ghost child into a more concrete villian, with Samara eager to take possession of Aidan's warm body. Where The Ring builds its tension through well-paced storytelling and eerie imagery, Two allows Samara to become the basis of all visuals, turning a once-solid (albeit disembodied) secondary character into a computer-generated leading role.
Although more interesting than any other horror film currently in theaters (Constantine, Cursed, White Noise, and Boogeyman), The Ring 2 succumbs to underdeveloped characters and obvious storylines and plot twists that are practically spoon-fed to the audience in the waning moments. This time around, America seems to have rubbed off on Nakata. Two could be the next big advertising campaign to deter people from participating in film piracy. Make a low-quality copy of a movie ... and die.