by Kevin Taylor & r & Kung Fu Hustle & r & The word "chi" in Chinese can be translated as breath, and also as essential life force. Chi, as it is expressed and trained in martial arts, is certainly central to the movies of Steven Chow, whose Kung Fu Hustle explores a more muted side of his eccentric and laugh-inducing Shaolin Soccer. Of course, it's hard to call a film "muted" when the fat guy sidekick repeatedly stabs his friend Three Stooges-style while trying to hit somebody else.

In Shaolin Soccer, Chow played a holes-in-his-sneakers kung fu disciple who evangelizes that the world would be a far better place if people lived by kung fu values of responsibility, flexibility and discipline.

The character, named Mighty Steel Leg, came up with bizarre schemes such as a lounge act with his brother "Iron Head." The crazy names and laugh-out-loud wire stunts and unabashed Looney Toons effects show up once again in Kung Fu Hustle.

This time Chow plays Sing, a down-and-outer who once believed in the power of kung fu to bring justice and beauty to the world. He has become a beaten-down and cynical small-time extortionist. Sing dreams of joining the fearsome Axe Gang, whose members rule pre-revolutionary Shanghai ... well, with an iron axe.

While still funny, Kung Fu Hustle is both more violent and more somber than Shaolin Soccer as it follows Sing's journey from low-life grifter to the savior who does some knock, knock, knocking with Buddha's Palm.

The DVD has the standard extras of "comic" bloopers that really aren't very funny, interesting cast bios and deleted scenes.

The best part is a lengthy interview with Chow by a bearded and pony-tailed pudgy white guy in a shirt that is stamped with yin-yang symbols. Chow appears both dumbfounded and amused. While the interviewer keeps trying to delve into the deep meanings of kung fu, Chow pretends to not understand English so good.

Kung Fu Hustle delivers, as did Shaolin Soccer, a crazy sort of freshness, wild fight scenes that don't even pretend to be taken seriously and a message that the world could indeed be a crazy-good place if we all developed our chi. And more good news: Chow expects to start filming a sequel this month or next.

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