A giant leap forward in Stephen Chow's ongoing assault on Jackie Chan's status as reigning balletic clown-master of martial-arts mayhem, this extravagantly nutty crime comedy is a work of some kind of genius. Not everybody's kind of genius, to be sure, but an East-West blend of Looney Toons pratfalls, computer-assisted fight choreography, goofball gags, Shaw Brothers allusions and sheer lunacy set in '40s Shanghai. Set pieces include the powerful Axe Gang's operatic trouncing of cops and rival Crocodile Gang thugs; an aerial battle between a prodigy of the Buddha's Palm technique and a veteran of the Kwan Lun school's Toad style; and a musical interlude featuring sharp-dressed, top-hatted hoodlums executing synchronized dance moves punctuated by playful axe-shaking. Pretending to be Axe Gang foot soldiers, wastrel Sing (Chow) and his porky, nameless sidekick (Lam Tze Chung) try to scam the downtrodden residents of Pig Sty Alley, who live in fear of their cheap, slovenly Landlady (Yuen Qiu) and her scrawny perv of a husband (Yuen Wah). But the Alley's fawning Doughnut (Dong Zhi Hua), fey Tailor (Chiu Chi Ling) and meek Coolie (Xing Yu) aren't the pathetic losers they appear: They're semiretired kung fu fighters and, after Sing's bumbling brings the wrath of the real Axe gang upon their humble neighborhood, they reveal themselves. Thoroughly humiliated by seeing his best killers routed by a bunch of slum dwellers, head Axe-man Brother Sum (Chan Kwok Kwan) sends the second-best killers in China (Jia kang Xi, Fung Hak On) to avenge his disgrace — the best, Beast (Leung Siu Lung), is unavailable because his dedication to martial arts drove him insane. But Brother Sum's hitmen only flush out an even greater pair of martial-arts masters hiding in the Alley. So Sum turns to Sing, who's willing to do anything — anything to be a real gangster — to break Beast out of the nuthouse. You don't have to be a kung-fu freak to revel in the film's energetic silliness, but it helps. Chow's loving pastiche-parody is as thick with movie-buff stuff as Quentin Tarantino's KILL BILL pictures, including allusions to the Shaws' Boxer from Shantung (1972), which featured the Axe gang; Pig Sty Alley's echoes of the Shaws' comic House of 72 Tenants (1973) and D.W. Griffith's 1912 Musketeers of Pig Alley; the supporting cast of '70s martial-arts bit players; and Yuen Wo Ping's action choreography, which references everything from up-to-the-minute wire work to old-school martial-arts moves. And if that's all too geekily esoteric, there's plenty of slapstick that requires no explanation at all.
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- Released: 2004
- Rating: R
- Review: A giant leap forward in Stephen Chow's ongoing assault on Jackie Chan's status as reigning balletic clown-master of martial-arts mayhem, this extravagantly nutty crime comedy is a work of some kind of genius. Not everybody's kind of genius, to be sure, but… (more)