With wide ranging references including Bruce Lee, Shaw Bros/old school Kung fu movies, Chinese Wuxia novels - Landlady and Landlord are a parody of the famous Wuxia lovers Yang Guo and Xialongnu - to The Matrix, Tex Avery, and even Stanley Kubrick; it is quite clear that Kung Fu Hustle (or simply Kung Fu in its native tongue) is a real labour of love for director and Hong Kong King of comedy Stephen Chow Sing Chi. The basic plot centres around the usual Chow underdog loser - with his own tragi-comic back story - and his desire to join the ruthless Axe Gang. This leads to the latter inadvertently getting into a conflict with the residents of the poor district Pig Sty Alley which, unbeknownst to outsiders, also happens to be the hideout of various Kung Fu masters who have exited Jiang Wu (i.e. retired from fighting).
However, Kung Fu Hustle is one of those rare breed of films where the plot is almost inconsequential to everything else that is going on. With a near perfect balance of comedy - from Chow's trademark brand of verbal "nonsense" humour to an abundance of amazingly detailed visual gags - and martial arts action, the movie is a fulfilment of Stephen Chow's long held desire to be a fully fledged Kung Fu hero. But don't be mistaken into thinking this is a one man mission of self indulgence. Indeed, Chow fully exercises his well known penchant for unlikely heroes and oddball villains. To play these roles, Chow very shrewdly cast stalwarts from the canon of Hong Kong Kung fu cinema such as Yuen Wah (Landlord), Fung Hark On (harpist), Chiu Chi Ling (camp tailor) and Bruce Leung Siu Lung (The Beast) to name a few.
In terms of the action choreography, Hong Kong movie legends Yuen Woo Ping and Sammo Hung combine - indirectly I might add, due to the latter eventually leaving production due to a combo of illness and the old chestnut of "creative differences" - to deliver a series of striking and varied action sequences that, in my humble opinion, most subsequent films of the genre have struggled to match with maybe the exception of Donnie Yen's output or Yuen Woo Ping's own True Legend (aka Beggar So). For example, I haven't seen anything from any recent action film (Hollywood or otherwise) to rival the sheer inventiveness of the duel between the blind harpist assassins versus the Tailor/Baker/Landlord Kung fu masters. With an estimated budget of US $20m (IMDb), Kung Fu Hustle looks a lot more expensive, and surely a prime example of how to effectively combine CGI and live action sequences with pure panache (and with greater seamlessness of effects than in Chow's previous Shaolin Soccer).
In summary, with a superb combination of shrewd casting, martial arts, humour, and even pathos - Kung Fu Hustle is a superlative homage to its heritage and just about as good as it gets for sheer entertainment. It's a shame then, that since the latter, the once uber ubiquitous Stephen Chow has transformed into Malick/Kubrickian levels of prolificacy - only resurfacing to direct three movies in the intervening years.