Hong Kong movie star Stephen Chow's action comedy Kung Fu Hustle kicked up a storm when it opened in the United States last weekend, but left delighted film critics battling to describe it.
Hong Kong's highest grossing film ever opened in limited release in North America on Friday, raking in an average around 38,000 dollars per screen, far outpacing any other movie last weekend.
The weekend's box office champion, Matthew McConaughey's Sahara, only managed about 5,728 dollars per screen, but brought in a total of 18 million dollars in its debut.
The tongue-in-cheek martial arts comedy, starring Chow as a small-time gangster who discovers his destiny as a Kung Fu superhero, came in 20th at the North American box office with a total haul of around 266,000 dollars.
US critics raved about the film, set in a 1940s Chinese city that appears to be Shanghai or Hong Kong, but were at a loss as how to define its genre or even describe the high-kicking action epic.
"A film in which Jackie Chan and Buster Keaton meet Quentin Tarantino and Bugs Bunny," wrote respected American critic Roger Ebert.
"It's been a long time -- you might have to go back to the Bruce Lee era -- since a martial-arts film busted through the limits of physical freedom as wildly, and promiscuously, as Kung Fu Hustle," raved Entertainment Weekly.
"Chow, perhaps the first action star and filmmaker to be as influenced by classic cartoons as by the karate-chop balletics of human movement, directs like a gonzo fusion of Tarantino and Tex Avery," it added.
The movie website FilmCritic.com gave the picture four stars out of five, saying it "reaches a crescendo of absurd insanity that would make even Jackie Chan gasp."
"Quentin Tarantino wishes he were Stephen Chow," roared E-online in praise of the unusual film.
"As the writer, director and star of Kung Fu Hustle, Chow has manifested a vision of martial-arts mayhem that makes Tarantino's gore-fests look downright pedestrian," it added.
In turn violent and hilarious, the film tells the story of two bungling would-be gangsters who get caught up with an evil axe-wielding gang who try to wipe out a poor neighborhood dominated by a chain-smoking harridan of a landlady who can scream loud enough to shatter walls.
(China Daily April 13, 2005)