Film & DVD Review
Tong Pak Foo is hte top grade scholar in Suzhou. On a feast day, Tong and his friend go to visit the temple and there, Tong meets Chau Heung for the first time. Tong is shaken by Chau's beauty. He decides to go after her. But Chau's master Wah is very angry with Tong's family. How can Tong make Chau Heung his bride?
Flirting Scholar is another Stephen Chow comedy film. Stephen Chow is regarded by many as being the best film comedian in the Hong Kong film industry - something which I accepted. However, pretty much immediately prior to watching this film I started to question this. I've seen more of his films which I didn't think were that great than I have seen good films. Granted I've got another 9 of his films in my collection which I am still to watch, but so far the only ones which I've thought were really funny were From Beijing With Love, Forbidden City Cop and Shaolin Soccer. The latter in my opinion being an absolute classic. Quite a few of his other films did make me laugh, but there was nothing overly memorable about them. So where did he get his reputation from? Is it his brand of humour is different to others, or is there something about his comedies which I just don't get? That is what I was thinking when watching Flirting Scholar.
"Speaks for itself really..."
The plot in Flirting Scholar is very simple. Chow is the scholar from the film title, Tong Pak Fu, one of the four great scholars, and an incredible artist whose paintings are sought after by all wealthy people. However, despite having eight wives, being very rich and highly respected by all (except his wives!), he is unhappy with his life, as he feels no-one understands him.
One day one his fellow scholars tells him of Chau Heung (Gong Li), an incredible beauty who Tong Pak Fu, once he sets his eyes on her, really wants to be with. To do so he disguises himself as a poor beggar looking to be bought by Heung's master Wah so that he can survive. In this he suceeds, but he finds working for Master Wah is very tough. In this house he discovers that Heung secretly desires Tong Pak Fu, as she loves his poetry, but Master Wah despises Tong, and wishes him to be dead. As a result Tong has to stay in disguise in the Wah household, and goes by the name of Wah On.
How to stand out in a crowd!
Over time Wah On and Heung become a little closer, with a lot of misunderstandings along the way, and things are looking better between the two. However, into the fold steps a Government official looking to ruin the Wah household, and appearing to be doing so, only Wah On can save them, but this will result in him revealing his true identity as Tong Pak Fu, the Wah family's enemy.
Like most Stephen Chow films, the plot isn't the main component of the film. Actually that is like most Hong Kong films, not just Stephen Chow ones, but that isn't the point! The main component is the humour. Chow does appear to have a unique brand of humour in the Hong Kong market, ranging from spoof to slapstick to surreal, without ever seeming too mixed and incoherent. In Flirting Scholar there are a lot of funny moments. Some of which are genuinely funny, others are meant to be funny but fall a bit flat, and others I'm sure would be funny if I could understand Cantonese, but the humour is lost in the translation.
"Let's strut our stuff... Come one boys - Strut!"
For me some of the really funny bits are: the scene where Chow is trying to sell himself to the Wah family, the scene where Heung is reciting Tong Pak Fu's poetry and Chow, as Wah On, joins in, the scene where Wah On is retrieving Heung's kite and the Four Perverted Heroes(!) scene, to name a few. There are also, as you would expect quite a few humourous one liners throughout. There were some scenes, no specific example comes to mind just now, where the humour seemed too forced, like we were being told "Look at what we are doing and saying! It is funny! Laugh. I said LAUGH." Those scenes didn't really work well, but most comedies these days do have hit or miss scenes, and this Hong Kong effort is no exception. There is also an appearance from a Stephen Chow comedy regular - the nose picking guy dressed as a woman!
"Ink baths are a little known Chinese sign of decadence!"
The biggest shame for this film, as an English speaking westerner viewing it, is that a lot of the humour I'm pretty sure is lost in the translation. There are many scenes where the characters on screen break into song, and I can't help but feel the subtitles didn't give a very accurate representation of what was being said. It did look like the subs just wrote something similar-ish, but with words changed so even the english would rhyme. This is most evident in the improvised poetry face off between Tong Pak Fu (as Wah On) and the Government official person. Some of the things the subtitles were saying were DEFINITELY not what the people were speaking. For example, they would not say something like "A to the B, to the C, and a D", or something to that effect. So I feel that any humour in those scenes was completely lost in the translation.
As well as humour, there are a couple of short fight scenes in the film. These are not top class fighting, but are still entertaining enough to watch. As you might expect, mixed in with the fights are little bits of humour, like an incompetent helper who keeps hitting the wrong person, and two fighters using a technique which swaps their clothes (or something like that). Having a little bit of action in the film helps quite a bit, as it stops the humour being soley responsible for the quality of the film.
"Art of another level."
Acting wise, it is difficult to tell how well each actor and actress performed. Most of the performances are very over the top, which is more than likely a deliberate thing, but you can't help but laugh, at times, at Chow's facial expressions and the like. Gong Li was ok I suppose, nothing special. Her character did not require and OTT performance, so none was given, and as such she did seem somewhat bland in comparison with the others. Master Wah's wife was pretty cool, as she was quite kick ass, but other than that there was nothing overly memorable from anyone else.
"Collateral damage in the duel was kept to a maximum!"
All in all Flirting Scholar is a decent enough film. For someone who understands Cantonese and probably has some knowledge of Chinese culture and customs, the film will quite likely be a little bit funnier, due to nothing being lost in the translation. Regardless, for a westerner I still found it amusing. There are a few laugh out loud moments, and many giggle and smile instances. While it may not have much of a repeat viewing factor to it, it is still certainly worth a watch at least once, but I would recommend viewing other Stephen Chow films before this one, if you have never seen any of his films before, as you do need to get accustomed to his brand of humour!
"Too much information!"
Audio & Subtitles
The Cantonese DD2.0 audio track was really nothing special, nor anything that bad. The speech was, at most times, perfectly audible, although at other times it did seem a little muffled. On the whole, there weren't that many sound effects occuring throughout the film, but the ones that there were also seemed pretty clear, and the volume balance was decent too.
"There's nothing like being honest."
The subtitles, however, were not that great. Firstly, they were burned in English and Chinese. As they were not digital subs which are placed over the print, these subs did move around the bottom of the screen quite a bit. Rather than being positioned on the same line for the duration, they moved up a little and down a reasonable bit. At times they were half on and off the screen, making them quite a bit more difficult to read. If that wasn't bad enough, the subs were white in colour, with no border, so at times when the screen was particularly bright, they were pretty much impossible to read. There were reasonably frequent spelling and grammar errors too, which brought them down even further. In addition there were several instances of unsubtitled Chinese text. How relevant these pieces of text were to the film, I don't know, but I do think it would have been more informative if the characters had been translated.
"The way you pick you nose... it's... so... beautiful!"
As I've also stated in the main review, I don't think that the subtitles were that accurate in the poem improvisation face off scenes, as I find it hard to believe that the things that were written as being said, were actually being said due to some of the use of some very English things, like the letters 'A' through 'G'.
The film print was on par with everything else presentation wise, and is really what I expect as standard from the old rubbish Mei Ah releases. There is frequent speckling throughout the film, and those vertical lines appear noticeably frequently too. However, detail levels looked ok, not great but not bad, but maybe a little soft in places. All in all, the print isn't that great.
"Death by words..."
DVD & Extras
This section is easy to write up, as there is absolutely nothing. Not even a menu screen. Put the dvd in, you get the warning screens at the start about copyrights etc. then the film starts. That's it.
Flirting Scholar is a decent enough film, with lots of funny moments, and several "laugh-out-loud" ones too. However, I feel that the humour in quite a few scenes was lost in the langauge barrier. The song scenes and the improvising poem face off scenes, I think, all really suffered in the translation to subtitles. This is a shame, as the film does have quite a bit going for it. Yes, it is ridiculous. Yes, it is very simple. But it made me laugh, and that is all this film is really there for! If you want to get more out of it, learn Cantonese! So I think it is only fair to say that people who are used to Stephen Chow's brand of humour will probably like Flirting Scholar, but I don't think it is his most accessible film to newcomers.
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