Thursday, August 11, 2005

You Must See This

This is the best movie ever made. Of course such superlatives are ridiculous, but KFH is intellectually engaging, touching, technically beautiful, surprising, and at times hilarious. Stephen Chow--obviously inspired by the Raimi/Coen Bros. school--has mastered the form they pioneered, and--dare I say it?--surpassed them.

Cineastes will enjoy KFH for the stacked 'references' to specific classics and entire genres of moviemaking. See if you can keep up with the breathlessly enthusiastic Chow, who never artlessly crams in pointless homages (with one strange exception that's nonetheless funny), but seamlessly incorporates them in the narrative. Fans of Kung Fu/gangster flicks will have a ball watching Chow exaggerate, lampoon, and gleefully deconstruct such movies with a startling precision. Chow owes a debt to Raimi's Evil Dead 2 and the Coen Bros.' Miller's Crossing in particular, but KFH is more sophisticated (and more silly) than either. Raimi got his comic aesthetic from the Stooges, which worked well in zombie films--Chow gets his from the classic Looney Toon cartoons of the 40s--shorts written, animated, and directed by guys versed in psychoanalytic theory, history, literature, and encyclopedically aware of pop culture. Imagine one of those brilliant WB cartoons from the 40s with the flawless art design, the dizzying combination of visual wizardry and layered puns, the vocal and musical brilliance. Then extend that brilliant 6 minute short to 90 minutes and voila, KFH.

Chow drops a line of dialogue from Spiderman into the mix to make explicit his debt to Raimi, much as Raimi would take lines or scenes from his favorite films (The Haunting in Evil Dead, the brilliant Once Upon a Time in the West flashback with Gary Sinese as Henry Fonda in The Quick and the Dead) to make clear his enthusiasms. But Chow is less awkward when it comes to incorporating an innocent romanticism; Raimi has trouble doing authentic emotion, and tends to compensate by mimicking/exaggerating maudlin scenes from classic cinema (tho this tendency has improved a bit, most particularly in the excellent A Simple Plan, Raimi reverted to form in Spiderman with the love scenes and bits of tender emotion almost over-the-top--it's part of Raimi's signature style). Chow hits exactly the right note in such scenes, and they add a poignant gravitas without ruining the fun. I won't tell you the cinematic metaphor which closes KFH, but I found it really touching. Chow knows movies can involve us completely, and can make magic genuine--they can, in fact, re-awaken a child-like sense of wonder in the most jaded of cynics. That's why I think KFH is such great fun. I was sincerely belly-laughing as Cha shrieked in surprise and delight during some of the sequences. I'll have to buy this one.