Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle is more than just an action comedy movie. It combines fantasy, heartfelt romance, and martial arts choreographed by renowned director Yuen Woo-ping. It surpassed Chow’s previous film, Shaolin Soccer, and did well both in China and abroad. It was nominated for 16 Hong Kong Film Awards, the Hong Kong equivalent of the Academy Awards or BAFTAs, out of which it won six: Best Picture, Best Action Choreography, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Effects, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Visual Effects. So, here are some interesting facts about Kung Fu Hustle you probably didn’t know about.
1. Yuen Woo-ping, of The Matrix, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, and Hero fame, choreographed the action sequences for Kung Fu Hustle.
Well-known Chinese martial arts choreographer and film director Yuen Woo-Ping started his career in 1978 on the films Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and Drunken Master, launching Jackie Chan as a major star. Since then, he worked with many Chinese actors including Donnie Yen, Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh, and Sammo Hung. His choreography on Fist of Legend attracted the Wachowski brothers who hired him to work on The Matrix. In 2004, he worked on Stephen Chow’s film Kung Fu Hustle.(1, 2)
2. “Pig Sty Alley” was inspired by Chow’s own childhood memory of crowded apartment complexes in a Hong Kong slum neighborhood where he lived.
In the movie, the “Pig Sty Alley” is an impoverished place where you find all kinds of characters including retired Kung Fu masters who took up humble jobs to get on with life. Designing the alley was Stephen Chow’s first priority as it was the main location in the film. In an interview with the Observer, he stated that he was inspired by his own childhood memories of crowded, Hong Kong, slum neighborhoods.(1, 2)
3. Chow had to spend a lot of time figuring out a way to make the Axe gang’s leader look tougher and different from other gangs. Then it struck him that the actor is a dancer and so he decided to use a dance sequence instead.
Danny Chan Kwok-kwan who plays “Brother Sum,” leader of the Axe gang, is a dance choreographer and a lead singer of the rock band Poet. He also practices Jeet Kune Do, a form of martial arts created by Bruce Lee. His dance skills came in handy when Chow was racking his brain on how to make Kwok-kwan look tough. When Chow remembered he danced, he thought, “Why not? Let’s dance.” So, instead of purely making scenes in which Brother Sum is being violent, the scenes of violence are intercut with a dance sequence performed by Kwok-kwan and his gang.(source)
4. Originally, there was a scene in which two assassins fight a shark underwater to show their power. But it was never made because the CGI people said they couldn’t do it.
The assassins Chow wished to include in the film were from the sea. The scene in which they fought the sharks was meant to be during the scene in which the two assassins playing magical guqin, a seven-stringed musical instrument which launches invisible blades at the retired martial artists residing in the “Pig Sty Alley.” However, the CGI said, “No, forget about this.” So, Chow created assassins with only the magical guqin instead.(1, 2)
5. Stephen Chow is a self-trained Kung Fu practitioner. He is a great fan of Bruce Lee and learned martial arts by imitating what he saw in the movies.
Stephen Chow credits Bruce Lee for inspiring him to become a martial arts practitioner and an actor. Though he did attend Kung Fu classes in school for a short time, he couldn’t continue it because of his financial situation. So, instead, he would watch Bruce Lee’s movies and imitate the moves and exercises. Like Bruce Lee, he picked Wing Chun style.(1, 2)
6. During the casting, Yuen Qiu was spotted smoking a cigarette, with a sarcastic expression, watching her friend audition. Though she did not audition for the role, she won the part of the Landlady because of that.
Chow started casting after he finished writing the script. As all the characters are “atypical and unusual” like the Landlady and the Beast, it took time for the casting. Chow didn’t know during the casting that Yuen Qiu has been an actress a long time ago and was in a James Bond movie. When she accompanied her friend to the casting, Chow was inspired by how she stood looking “arrogant and snobbish.”(source)
7. Bruce Leung, who played the Beast, was Stephen Chow’s childhood martial arts hero.
“Bruce Leung” is a stage name Leung Siu-lung used following the death of Bruce Lee. At that time, a subgenre called Bruceploitation saw many Chinese filmmakers in the 1970s using Bruce Lee look-alike actors to make imitation martial arts movies to cash in on Lee’s popularity after his death in 1973. Leung is also referred to as the “Third Dragon,” after Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. Following some failures in the Taiwanese film industry, he retired and became a businessman. Kung Fu Hustle is his first movie after being away from acting for 15 years.(source)
8. While casting Sing’s love interest Fong, Chow stated that he wanted an innocent-looking girl for the role. Eva Huang was chosen from a pool of 8,000 girls.
Eva Huang, also known as Huang Shengyi, plays a mute girl whom Sing tries to help when they were both children. Huang was a TV actress until then and Kung Fu Hustle was her film debut. When Chow was asked why he cast her, he replied that he enjoyed working with new actors and he “just had a feeling about her.” Huang chose not to have any dialogue so that her character could stand out through her gestures and body language.(source)
9. The scene in which the Landlord and Landlady are seen dancing the cha-cha through the window is a nod to Bruce Lee who won the 1958 Hong Kong National Cha-cha championship.
The cha-cha dance wasn’t the only reference to Bruce Lee. During the scene in which the Landlady gets into the Axe gang’s leader Brother Sum’s car after defeating his assassins, she mimics the gestures Bruce Lee made in the movie Return of the Dragon when he was also facing a crime boss. She wags her finger at Brother Sum, then closes both her fists and then just the right fist as we hear her knuckles cracking. Then she jerks her head up to which he nods that he understands. Then she thumbs her nose, just like Bruce Lee.(source)
10. The name “Pig Sty Alley” is a play on the name of the Walled City of Kowloon in Chinese. The city was a Chinese enclave in Hong Kong and well-known as a breeding ground of crime, slums, and disorder through most of the 20th century.
The Walled City was originally a Chinese military fort and became an enclave when China leased the New Territories to Britain in 1898. During World War II following the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong, the city’s population dramatically rose, becoming 50,000 residents within 2.6 hectares (6.4 acres) by 1990. From the 1950s to 1970s, the Walled City had high rates of prostitution, drug abuse, and gambling and was controlled by local triads. The Hong Kong government announced plans to demolish it in January 1987. Following a laborious eviction process, demolition began in March 1993 and ended in April 1994. It was turned into Kowloon Walled City Park which opened in December 1995.(source)
11. The Buddhist Palm Style that Chow’s character Sing learns as a child and uses during the climax fight is a real Southern Shaolin style of Kung Fu called Fut Gar Kuen.
In the film, during the last fight with Beast, Sing uses the Buddhist Palm leaving a massive palm-shaped hole in the building. In the real Buddhist Palm fighting style, however, the fighter delivers powerful punches using his palms. A relatively modern Southern Shaolin style of Kung Fu, Fut Gar Kuen, or the “Buddhist Family Fist,” utilizes mostly punches, palm strikes, low kicks, and evasive footwork to beat the opponent.(1, 2)
12. Most of the superpower names in the film were taken from the pulp novels of Louis Cha, a well-known novelist in Hong Kong. He is often compared to Alexandre Dumas and is considered one of the greatest wuxia writers ever.
Louis Cha Leung-yung, also known by his pen name, Jin Yong, is a Chinese novelist and the co-founder of Ming Pao, a Hong Kong daily newspaper. He has written around 15 wuxia novels between 1955 and 1972 earning him the reputation as one of the greatest wuxia novelists ever with over 100 million copies sold. During the scene in which the Landlady and Landlord introduce themselves to the Beast as “The Little Dragon Maide” and “Yang Guo.” These names are a comical reference Louis Cha’s famous novel Return of the Condor Heroes. The book was also adapted many times for film and television. Unlike the Landlord and Landlady, the actual characters were a handsome young man and a beautiful young woman.(1, 2)
13. Kung Fu Hustle surpassed Chow’s previous film, Shaolin Soccer, becoming the highest-grossing movie made in Hong Kong in 2005. It was also the highest-grossing foreign language film in North America, even gaining a cult following.
After opening in Hong Kong on December 23, 2004, Kung Fu Hustle earned HK$ 4,990,000 on its opening day. It stayed on top until early 2005 grossing a total of HK$ 61.27 million. In the US, it initially released as a two-week theatrical run in New York City and Los Angeles. After its success, it was soon released in 2,503 cinemas, the highest number of cinemas ever for a foreign language movie. Though not a blockbuster, Kung Fu Hustle became the highest-grossing foreign language movie in North America in 2005.(source)
14. Bill Murray considers Kung Fu Hustle “a supreme achievement of the modern age in terms of comedy.”
During an interview with GQ magazine published in July 2010, Bill Murray expressed how impressed he was with the movie Kung Fu Hustle. When asked about Quick Change, an American crime comedy movie he starred in, he replied that, “Unfortunately, the last time I watched it was right after Kung Fu Hustle, which is the supreme achievement of the modern age in terms of comedy. [Quick Change] is not even close. Quick Change after [Kung Fu Hustle] looked like a home movie. It looked like a fucking high school film.” He also added that “There should have been a day of mourning for American comedy the day that movie came out.”(source)