American Westerns come in a few different flavors, but one of the most common stories involves a stranger coming to a troubled town to help the townsfolk fight off violent interlopers. In 1974 this trope was perfectly parodied by Mel Brooks in the classic comedy Blazing Saddles.
It turns out that Chinese kung fu filmmakers are just as adept at both playing into and poking fun at Western tropes. Kung Fu Hustle is, in many ways, a brilliant inversion of the Western parody. In the film, Stephen Chow plays Sing, a slovenly failure who grew up believing he was destined to be a kung fu genius. In lieu of actual success, he attempts to join the Axe Gang by attacking members of his own community of Pigsty Alley.
Instead of being the Western hero who strides into town, Sing plays a loser would-be villain. Instead of Pigsty Alley being full of helpless townsfolk, it is populated with multiple kung fu masters. The story is about the adversarial relationship Sing has with Pigsty Alley, and how he has to meet them on their terms to become the hero he originally dreamed he could be.
What separates Kung Fu Hustle from something like Dolemite or The Human Tornado is that Stephen Chow is, in fact, a very talented physical performer — as are the rest of the cast of Kung Fu Hustle. Just like with Cobra Kai, we get some really solid fight sequences, and as Cobra Kai does with Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), Kung Fu Hustle takes the point-of-view of a disgraced villain who might become a hero if he can get out of his own way.
Kung Fu Hustle is available to stream on Netflix now.