Wednesday, August 02, 2006

2005 in review: #11

11. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Shane Black)

B-side: Kung Fu Hustle (Stephen Chow)

Sure, the films I’ve already listed are artistically edifying, but sometimes one craves something else entirely. What these two films have in common is how they cleverly- yet lovingly- lampoon their respective genres while working as more than just surface-level spoofs. Both Black and Chow clearly know their inspirations (detective fiction and kung fu action flicks, respectively), and rather than simply rattling off a laundry list of allusions, they create films that contribute to their genres rather than standing back and laughing at them.

KUNG FU HUSTLE in particular refuses to confine itself to martial arts. The film’s setting is something out of GANGS OF NEW YORK, and the comedy is lowbrow in the best sense of the word. Most obviously, Chow is heavily influenced by old-school cartoons, and the film’s special effects are deliriously unrealistic, crafting a world in which the laws of physics have been formulated by Jones and Avery rather than Newton and Einstein. In the middle of the madness, however, the film finds moments of strange beauty and pays homage to Chinese martial arts stars of the past, especially Qiu Yuen, who hilariously essays the role of the chain-smoking, ever-grouchy Landlady.

If anything, KISS KISS BANG BANG is even better, or maybe I’m just biased because I’m much more familiar with pulpy detective stories than I am with chopsocky. Regardless, Shane Black is a strong contender for 2005’s comeback of the year, crafting a film that’s both a ripping L.A. mystery and a kiss-off to the City of Dreams (who but a bitter expat could have crafted a line like, “it’s like someone shook this country by the East Coast and only the normal girls managed to hang on”?). Plus the thing’s hilarious, chock full of the bizarre one-liners Black fans have missed all these years, and great comic performances from Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer, and Michelle Monaghan. So why isn’t this higher on the list. Well, I told you it was a good year…

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