Year Released: 2004
Directed by: Stephen Chow
Starring: Stephen Chow, Lam Tze Chung, Chan Kwok Kwan, Yuen Qui, Yuen Wah, Leung Siu Lung
(R, 95 min.)
"Things are seldom what they seem, Skim milk masquerades as cream." Sir William Schwenck Gilbert
In making pastry as in riding horses, the light touch is essential. So, too, in entertainment. Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle, for all its violence, has the airy feel that distinguished the golden era of film from the forties.
Not that it starts out that way. It begins with the kind of mindless violence that pock-marked Sin City, and I squirmed in my seat, anticipating another round of body bashing, and bloody business for its own sake.
But nothing in Kung Fu Hustle is quite what it seems. Once I began to realize this film was parodying itself, or the whole of the martial arts genre, I started to get it. I’m not sure if this is the mark of martial arts’ popularity or a sign of its decline, but I’m sure Stephen Chow is not pondering any of these deep thoughts, and he reminded me to stop being so analytical as well.
The malevolent Axe Gang is run by a skinny tough with exceptionally bad teeth, which he regularly flashes on screen like a Crest commercial gone bad. His protégées always carry their requisite axes and parade around in formal wear like David Niven at the Ritz. And their approach to terror is always well choreographed, like some forties style big band number, or even the finger snapping shenanigans of the Jets and Sharks of West Side Story.
Usually they concentrate on high stakes shake downs, but they are drawn into Pig Sty Alley, a slum with a capital S, which never-the-less has its own porcine coat of arms smiling down on the squalor. It seems easy pickings to Axe Gang Pretender Sing (Stephen Chow) and his corpulent sidekick, but they soon are disabused of this notion. They are in for a surprise when the burg’s sissified tailor has other uses for his metal coat rings, the pot sticker provider more lethal uses for his rolling sticks, and the nagging landlady a voice to hush more than her kowtowed spouse.
Most of the fun lies in all these turn-arounds. The landlady wears her hair in curlers, sports an ever-hanging cigarette balancing from her upper lip like an inanimate appendage, and makes her fashion statement in dust robe and house slippers. When she isn’t suspending the town water supply to punish anyone late with the rent, she is pounding her cringing husband, who never remembers to wipe the incriminating lipstick from his cheek.
What a delight to see this couple revealed in their true form, kind of like the fantastic childhood memories of frogs turning into princes or beauties awakening to a royal kiss.
The pretenders’ defeat by these little guys, really Kung Fu masters living out anonymous retirements, brings the real gang into action to erase what appears as an Axe annihilation. They even enlist the aid of the Beast, a Kung Fu master gone over the edge and confined to the dark dungeon of an asylum. Pretender Sing tries to redeem himself by volunteering to engineer the Beast’s release, and what ensues is like the dance of the seven veils, with each reality peeled away to reveal another.
The action, like the plot, is over the top, literally, in fact. I guess we’ve come to expect the gravity defying airs above ground in recent epics such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and House of Flying Daggers, but not with the tongue-in-cheek comedy of Jackie Chan or Roger Moore’s James Bond. Throw in a little vintage Saturday morning cartoon tomfoolery, and you get the picture. So strap yourself in for the roller coaster ride, hang on to your seat, and be prepared to have any preconceptions free fall around the next bend.
At first glance Doughnut is the obsequious baker of pot stickers, bowing before his landlord, who takes the delicious dumplings as his due. But the diminutive little doughboy changes when times get tough. The light hand that turns out such delicious pastry also wields his rollers with the same alacrity.
How great is it to see baker Doughnut (Dong Zhi Hua) pick up his bamboo rolling pins and use them to demolish the hordes of black-hatted Axe Gang members descending upon his humble Pig Sty Alley.
You can try your hand at these little gems, too. I’ve selected the pork version to go along with Pig Sty Alley, of course. And just to keep your hands flour free and avoid tempting you to do any violent deeds with a rolling pin (or bamboo poles), I have used ready made wonton wrappers.
After all, you do have a life.
Pot Stickers (Chinese Dumplings)
"Potstickers are delicious Chinese dumplings that can be served as an appetizer or entree. I make them every New Year's Eve along with fried rice and they are practically gone when I sit down to eat ! They are that good.
My local Chinese restaurant creates heavenly pot stickers, which are steamed, and I believe these are very close to their delicious bundles of heaven. I hope you enjoy these as much as my family does."
What you need:
- 2/3 pounds of ground pork
- 1 cup of Chinese cabbage- minced
- 2 Green onions-minced
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon of light soy sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt
- 1/2 teaspoon Orange peel-grated
- 1/2 teaspoon hot chili oil
- 40 Wonton wrappers
- 1/2 cup peanut oil
- 1 cup water
What you do:
- Combine pork, cabbage, onion, egg, soy sauce, orange peel, and hot chili oil in large bowl and mix well.
- To assemble each pot sticker: dust waxed or parchment paper with the cornstarch. Set 1 rounded teaspoon filling in center of won ton skin, pressing lightly so filling forms a narrow band across the middle. Moisten the rim of the wrapper with water for a good seal.
- Bring opposite sides together to form a semicircle. Pinch together around the outer edge. Transfer to cornstarch dusted paper. Cover with a dry kitchen towel. Repeat with remaining filling and wrappers.
- Place 2 heavy 12 inch skillets over low heat. Add 1/4 cup oil to each. Arrange pot stickers in skillets in rows, fitting closely together. Increase heat to medium-high and cook uncovered until bottoms are deeply golden, about 2 minutes, checking occasionally.
- Add 1/2 cup of water to each pan and cover immediately. Let steam until wonton wrappers are translucent (as if you can see through the wrapper), about 3 minutes. Remove cover and continue cooking over medium to medium-high heat until bottoms are very crisp and well browned. Drain off excess oil if necessary. Loosen potstickers with a spatula and transfer to a serving dish. Serve immediately.
Recipe Source: Mom-to-Mom Recipe Library, Homeschoolzone.com