||Stephen Chow's follow-up to SHAOLIN SOCCER ups the over-the-top action quotient by about three zillion percent. The story is set in 1930s Hong Kong, with Chow as a shaggy-haired, would-be bad guy named Sing, who gets caught up in the middle of a war between the top-hat-wearing Axe gang and the hard scrabble inhabitants of Pig Sty Alley. Chow--who wrote, produced, and directed--doesn't step in as the star here for quite a while, letting the comic duties fly in a myriad of directions: a landlady in curlers (Yuen Qiu) has a yell that can flatten buildings; people get kicked across courtyards and through walls; musician assassins whip ghost sabers from lyre strings, and a mental patient in pink flip-flops named "the Beast" (Leung Siu Lung) catches bullets in his fingers. Buoyed by SOCCER's box office success, HUSTLE uses bigger production values and a dizzying amount of CGI-enhanced martial arts (imagine Bruce Lee vs. Bugs Bunny in THE MATRIX). It's full of references to other films and filmmakers, revering spaghetti westerns and '70s Shaw brothers movies a la Tarantino's KILL BILL (fight choreographer Yuen Wo Ping worked on both films). It also pays sly homage to the works of Wong Kar Wai, D.W. Griffith, Sam Raimi, Jean-Luc Godard, Stanley Kubrick, and Akira Kurosawa. Raymond Wong's inspired score matches each cinematic reference with the appropriate cue as the camera circles and swoops around the sprawling sets. This is a real treat, more than a great action film or comedy, it's a great film period, and one that set box office records in the East.