Kung Fu Hustle is basically Stephen Chow’s live action love letter to the the things he adored as a kid, so the movie is basically a merry mash-up of Chinese action cinema and vintage Looney Tunes. And believe it or not, the combination works wonderfully. The traditional Chinese orchestra gives the film a standout soundtrack, the appearance by many legendary faces from 70s Hong Kong films is a real treat for chopsocky fans, and the ludicrously over the top wire-fu sequences make the tedious Matrix sequels look like amateur night. Seriously, for a movie whose entire budget probably couldn’t even pay for Keanu to step onto the set, Kung Fu Hustle almost makes you appreciate CGI again.
But in the end, the thing that really wins you over about Kung Fu Hustle is the character of Sing and the way he begins the movie as a cowardly thief and wannabe murderer, only to stumble his way into becoming an enlightened Buddha-esque demigod. Oh, what a giveaway! Spoilers, right? Well, kind of. But you know what, the particular plot points in this movie don’t really matter because (1) there’s more than enough surprises scattered throughout the film to make up for anything you know beforehand, and (2) it’s not the finale, but the character’s journey and everyone he meets on his way that makes Kung Fu Hustle so enjoyable.
Which is actually kind of odd because while on his journey, Sing rarely makes a single correct decision. After bullies humiliate him as a child (the Chinese don’t appear to be at all squeamish about depicting children urinating on each other), Sing rejects the friendship of the mute girl he was trying to protect. Years later, he pushes her away again, and smashes her lollipop to get the point across (trust me, it makes sweet sense in the end). When he tries to initiate a life of crime, Sing does so by stupidly pretending to be a member of the most ruthless gang in town, a choice which inevitably lands him a death sentence from the real criminals. And when the gang surprisingly offers to let him go instead, Sing makes the boneheaded choice to stick around and undergo an initiation rite which requires him to murder someone (our hero, ladies and gentlemen). And to top all that off, the method he decides to use to attempt said execution leads to complete disaster (as well as to one of the funniest scenes ever involving snakes put to film).
It’s only when Sing makes his first real unselfish choice, by uncharacteristically switching sides and trying to defend the reluctant champions Landlord and Landlady from the unstoppable Beast, that he finally takes his first step towards wisdom. Of course, that’s also the exact moment that Sing literally has every bone in his body pounded into dust, but hey, as we Christians know, those initial movements towards enlightenment can often be painful ones. The point is, no matter how many times he screwed up, fate offered Sing another shot at redemption. You know, for a movie with such blatant Buddhist imagery, it’s funny how much of the Christian experience one can find in Sing’s journey.
You see this mainly in the way in which Sing is constantly offered the choice to choose the right path, but just as continuously finds some excuse to go in the other direction. And yet each time he strays, most often to painful and hilarious results, he is eventually offered the choice again. And that’s what Peter is alluding to in this week’s reading from Acts when he scolds the crowd saying, “This man, delivered up by the set plan and foreknowledge of God, you killed, using lawless men to crucify him. But God raised him up, releasing him from the throes of death, because it was impossible for him to be held by it.” You see, whenever we turn our back on plan one, God always has a plan two.
Pope Benedict XVI puts it a little more eloquently (a good thing considering he’s Pope and all) in his recent second volume on Jesus of Nazareth. “Some notable exegetes… argue that Jesus began by offering the good news of God’s kingdom and his unconditional forgiveness, but that he had to acknowledge the rejection of this offer and so came to identify his mission with that of the Suffering Servant. They argue that after his offer was refused, he realized that the only remaining path was that of vicarious expiation: that he had to take upon himself the disaster looming over Israel, thereby obtaining salvation for many… From the perspective of the whole structure of the biblical image of God and salvation history, a progression of this kind, a move toward a new path of love after the initial offer is rejected, is entirely plausible. This “flexibility” on God’s part is utterly characteristic of the paths that he treads with his people, as recounted in the Old Testament - he waits for man's free choice, and whenever the answer is "no", he opens up a new path of love. He responds to Adam’s “no” with a new overture toward man. He responds to Babel’s “no” with a fresh initiative in history – the choice of Abraham. [And so on]… So a similar two-stage process in Jesus’s approach to the people is entirely plausible.”
And that’s a comforting thought, because we all have some Sings in our lives, those people who who couldn’t make a right choice even if there were flashing neon arrows pointing to the correct path and a big sign proclaiming THIS IS IT! Sometimes we may be stuck with little to do for those people but pray, but we can rest assured that God’s already planned the next chance for them to get it right. And only on a few occasions does it involve getting pulverized.