The film was released on 23 December 2004 in China and on 25 January 2005 in the United States. It received a 90% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and 78 out of 100 at Metacritic. The film grossed US$17 million in North America and US$84 million in other regions. Kung Fu Hustle was the highest-grossing Chinese-language film in the history of Hong Kong until it was surpassed by You Are the Apple of My Eye in 2011.
The film was the all-time tenth highest-grossing foreign language film in the United States as well as the highest-grossing foreign language film in the country in 2005. Kung Fu Hustle won numerous awards, including six Hong Kong Film Awards and five Golden Horse Awards. The film was re-released in 3D in October 2014 across Asia and America, marking the tenth anniversary of the film.
In Shanghai during the 1930s, Sing and his friend Bone attempt to join the Deadly Axe Gang, which ruthlessly controls the city under the leadership of Brother Sum. Sing seeks to restore his confidence after being humiliated as a young boy while trying to protect a mute girl from bullies, due to the failure of the Buddhist Palm method he had learned from a pamphlet he bought from a beggar. Sing and Bone attempt to intimidate the residents of Pig Sty Alley but are chased off by its Landlady. Hearing of this, Sum orders the capture of Sing and Bone, while sending the Gang to reassert its authority in the wake of the humiliation. Three of the tenants, Coolie, Tailor, and Donut, reveal themselves to be martial arts masters, defeating more than fifty of the Gang. Fearing retribution, the Landlady evicts the three, but they encounter a pair of hired assassins who fight using a magical guqin that launches invisible blades. Coolie is beheaded, and Tailor and Donut are mortally wounded before the Landlady and her husband the Landlord reveal that they too are martial arts masters, having gone into self-exile after the death of their son. The two defeat the assassins but Tailor and Donut die from their injuries. The Landlords temporarily evacuate the other tenants for their safety.
Meanwhile, Sing engineers his and Bones escape from confinement, and Sum is impressed, offering them membership in the Gang if they can kill a person. Sing and Bone attempt to kill the Landlady, but their plan backfires, and Sing barely escapes from the Landlady's wrath. Seeking safety in a traffic pulpit, Sing is surprised as his body rapidly heals from the injuries sustained in the escape, the pain causing him to strike the sides of the pulpit with extreme force, covering the surface in indentations. Later, he attempts to mug an ice cream vendor, who turns out to be the mute girl; she offers him a lollipop but he knocks it away, humiliated at himself. After sending Bone away, blaming his failure on Bone, Sing is bought before Sum. Sum wants Sing to use his escape skills to free a legendary fighter, the Beast, from a mental asylum to use against Pig Sty Alley, offering Sing membership in the Gang for doing so. Upon being released, the Beast appears to be a middle-aged, slovenly, and flippant man, but is quickly shown to be a formidable and ruthless fighter.
When the Landlords arrive at the Axe Gang casino to settle the score, Sum sends the Beast to fight them. During the fight, he stabs both with hidden blades, weakening but not defeating them. Sum orders Sing to strike the Landlord to break the stalemate, but Sing has a change of heart and strikes the Beast instead. The Beast turns and pummels Sing until he is rescued by the Landlords and taken back to Pig Sty Alley. The Beast kills Sum for disrupting his fight, and then orders an all-out assault on Pig Sty Alley.
Back at the Alley, Sing undergoes a transformation brought on by the Beast's attack, fully healing himself and making him a kung-fu master himself. He sees to the well-being of the Landlords as the Gang arrives. Sing easily defeats the Gang and faces the Beast alone. The Beast uses his Toad style maneuvers to launch Sing high into the air. While aloft, Sing comes to peace with Buddha, and is able to use the Buddhist Palm method to subdue the Beast. The Beast accepts his defeat and asks Sing to be his master.
Sometime later, Sing and Bone have opened a candy store; when Sing sees the ice cream vendor outside, he invites her in to share their childhood memories. Others like the Landlords enjoy the city without fear of the Axe Gang. The same beggar that had sold the pamphlet to Sing as a child is then shown attempting to sell another one to a young boy.Stephen Chow as Sing, a loser in life who aspires to join the Axe Gang. He specializes in Fut Gar Buddhist Palm technique.
Danny Chan Kwok-kwan as Brother Sum, leader of the Axe Gang.
Yuen Wah as the Landlord of Pig Sty Alley. He is also a master of Taijiquan.
Yuen Qiu as the Landlady of Pig Sty Alley. She is a master of the Lama Pai Lion's Roar technique.
Bruce Leung Siu-lung as the Beast, an old but incredibly strong kung fu master. He is rumoured to be the most dangerous person alive, though his skill is disguised by his unkempt appearance.
Xing Yu as the Coolie, a kung fu specialist of Tán Tuǐ Twelve Kicks technique of the Tam School.
Chiu Chi-ling as Tailor, the tailor of Pig Sty Alley. He specialises in the art of Hung Ga Iron Fist technique, and he fights with iron rings on his arms.
Dong Zhihua as Donut, a baker in Pig Sty Alley. He specializes in the Eight Trigram Staff.
Lam Chi-chung as Bone, Sing's sidekick.
Eva Huang as Fong, Sing's mute love interest and childhood acquaintance.
Tin Kai-Man as Brother Sum's adviser.
Gar Hong-hay and Fung Hak-on as the Harpists, two killers hired by the Axe Gang. Their instrument is the guzheng, or "Chinese harp".
Lam Suet and Liang Hsiao as high-ranking members of the Axe Gang.
Yuen Cheung-yan as the Beggar, the man who sold Sing the Buddha's Palm manual.
Feng Xiaogang as the leader of the Crocodile Gang. He is killed by the Axe Gang at the start of the film.
Fung Min-hun as 4 eyed clerk
Kung Fu Hustle is a co-production of the Beijing Film Studio and Hong Kong's Star Overseas. After the success of his 2001 film, Shaolin Soccer, Chow was approached in 2002 by Columbia Pictures Film Production Asia, offering to collaborate with him on a project. Chow accepted the offer, and the project eventually became Kung Fu Hustle. Kung Fu Hustle was produced with a budget of US$20 million.
Chow was inspired to create the film by the martial arts films he watched as a child and by his childhood ambition to become a martial artist. A senior Hollywood executive said Chow was "forced to grind through four successive scripts" and "found it very laborious".
Chow's first priority was to design the main location of the film, "Pig Sty Alley". Later in an interview Chow remarked that he had created the location from his childhood, basing the design on the crowded apartment complexes of Hong Kong where he had lived. The 1973 Shaw Brothers Studio film, The House of 72 Tenants, was another inspiration for Pig Sty Alley. Designing the Alley began in January 2003 and took four months to complete. Many of the props and furniture in the apartments were antiques from all over China.
Kung Fu Hustle features several prolific Hong Kong action cinema actors from the 1970s. Yuen Wah, a former student of the China Drama Academy Peking Opera School who appeared in over a hundred Hong Kong films and was a stunt double for Bruce Lee, played the Landlord of Pig Sty Alley. Wah considered starring in Kung Fu Hustle to be the peak of his career. In spite of the film's success, he worried that nowadays fewer people practice martial arts.
Auditions for the role of the Landlady began in March 2003. Yuen Qiu, who did not audition, was spotted during her friend's screen test smoking a cigarette with a sarcastic expression on her face, which won her the part. Qiu, a student of Yu Jim-yuen, sifu of the China Drama Academy, had appeared in the 1974 James Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun at the age of 18. After a number of other small roles, she retired from films in the 1980s. Kung Fu Hustle was her first role in nineteen years. Qiu, in order to fulfill Chow's vision for the role, gained weight for the role by eating midnight snacks everyday.
Bruce Leung, who played the Beast, was Stephen Chow's childhood martial arts hero. Leung Siu Lung was a famous action film director and actor in the 1970s and 1980s, known as the "Third Dragon" after Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. After becoming unpopular in the Taiwanese film market in the late 1980s following a visit to China, he switched to a career in business. Kung Fu Hustle was his return to the film industry after a fifteen-year hiatus. He regarded Chow as a flexible director with high standards, and was particularly impressed by the first scene involving the Beast, which had to be reshot 28 times.
In addition to famous martial artists, Kung Fu Hustle features legends of Chinese cinema. Two famous Chinese directors appear in the film: Zhang Yibai, who plays Inspector Chan at the beginning of the film, and Feng Xiaogang, who plays the boss of the Crocodile Gang.
In casting Sing's love interest Fong, Chow stated that he wanted an innocent looking girl for the role. Television actress Eva Huang, in her film debut, was chosen from over 8,000 girls. When asked about his decision in casting her, Chow said that he "just had a feeling about her" and that he enjoyed working with new actors. She chose to have no dialogue in the film so that she could stand out only with her body gestures.
Filming took place in Shanghai from June 2003 to November 2003. Two-thirds of the time was spent shooting the fight sequences. Those scenes were initially choreographed by Sammo Hung, who quit after two months due to illness, tough outdoor conditions, interest in another project and arguments with the production crew. Hung was replaced by Yuen Woo-ping, an action choreographer with experience ranging from 1960s Hong Kong action cinema to more recent films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Matrix. Yuen promptly accepted the offer. Yuen drew on seemingly outdated wuxia fighting styles like the Deadly Melody and Buddhist Palm. He remarked that despite the comedic nature of the film, the shooting process was a serious matter due to the tight schedule.
Most of the special effects in the film, created by Hong Kong computer graphics company Centro Digital Pictures Limited, which had previously worked on films such as Shaolin Soccer and Kill Bill, included a combination of computer-generated imagery and wire work. Centro Digital performed extensive tests on CGI scenes before filming started, and treatment of the preliminary shots began immediately afterwards. The CGI crew edited out wire effects and applied special effects in high resolution. Legendary martial arts mentioned in wuxia novels were depicted and exaggerated through CGI, but actual people were used for the final fight between Chow's character and hundreds of axe-wielding gangsters. After a final calibration of colour, data of the processed scenes was sent to the US for the production of the final version. A group of six people followed the production crew throughout the shooting.
The majority of the film's original score was composed by Raymond Wong and performed by the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra. The score imitates traditional Chinese music used in 1940s swordplay films. One of Wong's works, Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained, provides a stark contrast between the villainous Axe Gang and the peaceful neighbourhood of Pig Sty Alley, depicted by a Chinese folk song, Fisherman's Song of the East China Sea. Along with Wong's compositions and various traditional Chinese songs, classical compositions are featured in the score, including excerpts from Zigeunerweisen by Pablo de Sarasate and Sabre Dance by Aram Khachaturian. The song, Zhiyao Weini Huo Yitian (只要為你活一天; Only Want to Live One Day for You), is sung in the background by Eva Huang at the end of the film. Written by Liu Chia-chang (劉家昌) in the 1970s, it tells of a girl's memories of a loved one, and her desire to live for him again. Kung Fu Hustle was nominated for Best Original Film Score at the 24th Hong Kong Film Awards.
Asian and American versions of the soundtrack were released. The Asian version of the soundtrack was released on 17 December 2004 by Sony Music Entertainment and has 33 tracks. The American version of the soundtrack was released on 29 March 2005 by Varèse Sarabande and has 19 tracks but has 14 tracks missing from the Asian release.
The soundtrack for the trailer was mastered at Epiphany Music and Recording, Inc. in Santa Rosa, California.
Kung Fu Hustle premiered at the 2004 Toronto International Film Festival. It was later released across East Asia including China, Hong Kong and Malaysia in December 2004. The film was first shown in the US at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2005, and then opened in a general release on 22 April 2005 after being shown in Los Angeles and New York for two weeks.
The North American DVD release was on 8 August 2005. A Blu-ray version of the DVD was released on 12 December 2006 by Sony Pictures. A UMD version of the film was released for the PlayStation Portable. The United States DVD releases was censored and cut in a number of scenes that featured a lot of blood or human excrement, a later release, called "The Kick-Axe Edition" saw these edits removed.
In the United Kingdom the standard DVD was released 24 October 2005, the same day a special edition was released with collector's items, which included playing cards, a keyring, a sweat band, and an inflatable axe. On 8 April 2007, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released a Blu-ray version.
The Portuguese title of the film is Kungfusão, which sounds like Kung Fu and Confusão (confusion). In the same way as Kungfusão, the Italian and Spanish titles were Kung-fusion and Kung-fusión, puns of "confusion". In France, the film is known as Crazy Kung Fu, and the Hungarian title is A Pofonok Földje, meaning The Land of Punches.
In Korea a Limited Collector's Edition DVD was released which included a leather wallet, Stephen Chow's Palm Figure with his signature, a photo album and Special Kung Fu's Booklet with a Certificate of authenticity.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film received a 90% approval rating based on 182 reviews and an average rating of 7.7/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "Kung Fu Hustle blends special effects, martial arts, and the Looney Toons [sic] to hilarious effect." On Metacritic, the film received a score of 78 out of 100 based on 38 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews."
Hong Kong director and film critic Gabriel Wong praised the film for its black comedy, special effects and nostalgia, citing the return of many retired kung fu actors from the 1970s. Film critic Roger Ebert's description of the film ("like Jackie Chan and Buster Keaton meet Quentin Tarantino and Bugs Bunny") was printed on the promotion posters for the film in the US. Other critics described it as a comedic version of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Positive reviews generally gave credit to the elements of mo lei tau comedy present in the film. A number of reviewers viewed it as a computer-enhanced Looney Tunes punch-up. In a 2010 GQ interview, actor Bill Murray called Kung Fu Hustle "the supreme achievement of the modern age in terms of comedy".
Much of the criticism for the film was directed at its lack of character development and a coherent plot. Las Vegas Weekly, for instance, criticized the film for not having enough of a central protagonist and character depth. Criticism was also directed towards the film's cartoonish and childish humor. Richard Roeper gave it a negative review, saying he had "never been a fan of that over the top slapstick stuff".
Kung Fu Hustle opened in Hong Kong on 23 December 2004, and earned HK$4,990,000 on its opening day. It stayed at the top of the box office for the rest of 2004 and for much of early 2005, eventually grossing HK$61.27 million. Its box office tally made it the highest-grossing film in Hong Kong history, until it was beaten by You Are the Apple of My Eye in 2011.
Kung Fu Hustle began a limited two-week theatrical run in New York City and Los Angeles on 8 April 2005 before being widely released across North America on 22 April. In its first week of limited release in seven cinemas, it grossed US$269,225 (US$38,461 per screen). When it was expanded to a wide release in 2,503 cinemas, the largest number of cinemas ever for a foreign language film, it made a modest US$6,749,572 (US$2,696 per screen), eventually grossing a total of US$17,108,591 in 129 days. In total, Kung Fu Hustle had a worldwide gross of US$101,104,669. While not a blockbuster, Kung Fu Hustle managed to become the highest-grossing foreign language film in North America in 2005 and went on to gain a cult following on DVD.
The film was nominated for sixteen Hong Kong Film Awards, out of which winning: Best Picture, Best Action Choreography, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Effects, Best Supporting Actor and Best Visual Effects. Five more awards were later picked up at the Golden Horse Awards including an award for Best Director for Stephen Chow. In the United States Kung Fu Hustle was well received by various film critic associations winning awards for Best Foreign Language Film from Boston, Chicago, Las Vegas and Phoenix based critics. it was later nominated for six Satellite Awards and one MTV Movie Award for best fight scene. In the United Kingdom at 59th British Academy Film Awards the film was nominated for a BAFTA.
In 2011, the Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival listed Kung Fu Hustle at number 48 in their list of "100 Greatest Chinese-Language Films". The majority of the voters originated from Taiwan, and included film scholars, festival programmers, film directors, actors and producers. In 2014, Time Out polled several film critics, directors, actors and stunt actors to list their top action films. Kung Fu Hustle was listed at 50th place on this list.
In 2005, Chow announced that there would be a sequel to Kung Fu Hustle, although he had not settled on a female lead. "There will be a lot of new characters in the movie. We'll need a lot of new actors. It's possible that we'll look for people abroad besides casting locals". In January 2013 during an interview Chow admitted that plans for making Kung Fu Hustle 2 have been put on hold. "I was indeed in the midst of making the movie, but it is currently put on hold in view of other incoming projects". Production of Kung Fu Hustle 2 was delayed while Chow filmed the science fiction adventure film CJ7. As a result, Kung Fu Hustle 2 was slated for a 2014 release. As of 2016, there has yet to be any confirmed news of the sequel and Chow is slated to complete another movie, The Mermaid, before completing this one.
In 2004 a promotional flash game was released by Sony Pictures Entertainment on their Japanese website. The game were created by Japanese game developer Point Zero and plays as a point and click beat 'em up. A side scrolling game designed for mobile phones was later released in 2006 by developer Tracebit.
In 2007 Sony Online Entertainment announced that a massively multiplayer online 2D side-scrolling fighter game based on the film was under development for the Chinese market. Two years later a preview of the game was featured at E3 where it received mixed reviews from critics with many comparing it to similar MMO games such as Guild Wars and Phantasy Star Online.
A North American release for PC and PS3 was planned for late 2009, but never came to fruition. The game was only available in Asia for the PC.