Tremendous fun, and a huge international success (deserved so), Stephen Chow’s roughhouse Martial Arts comedy piles on homage & parody without skimping on character or story. It’s balanced cinematic anarchy; damn handsome, too. He opens on the dark side, as warring gangs in ‘40s Shanghai fight it out and The Axe Gang slaughter their way to the top. (Laughs are triggered with just enough exaggeration to the stylized violence.) But the Axes don’t quite own the town, deep in the slums of Pig Sty Alley, landlord & landlady run the show. Or do until a couple of renegade Axe Boys try to shakedown the neighborhood. Bad idea since Pig Sty has a trio of tough guys hiding in plain sight; also because the intruders aren’t really Axe Gang members. By now, Chow, who also stars as one of the renegades, has tilted from realistic laws of gravity, mass & speed, and edged toward a cartoon universe Chuck Jones & Frank Tashlin might recognize. With action chops doubling on every set piece (though one with strumming instruments-of-death doesn’t come off), the film rethinks its heroes & alliances while it dazzles via stunts & expendable serried ranks assembled, set to a variety of music cues that range from traditional Chinese to Looney Tunes Classical ‘Pops.’ (Raymond Wong gets credit for the score.) Best of all, even without knowing any of the Martial Arts pics referenced or the film history of the great veteran actors in the cast, Chow manages to slip in a real emotional charge amidst the comic mayhem.
DOUBLE-BILL: Chow prominently features a big poster of TOP HAT/’35 behind the film’s mute, ice cream selling heroine. He must have been thinking of Fred Astaire’s iconic solo to Irving Berlin’s ‘Top Hat, White Tie & Tails,’ the one where he ‘guns’ down an entire chorus with nothing more than a polished cane for a rifle & ‘taps’ as ammo.