My School Mate, The Barbarian (2001)
Directed by: Billy Chung & Wong Jing
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Nomination at the Hong Kong Film Awards 2002:
Going to a posh school and doing splendidly well in his studies, Edward (Stephen Fung) is unfortunately the object of love coming from a psycho female student so he's thrown out after being accused of attempted rape. After a technical glitch during a conference call between Edward's mother (Helen Poon) with her employees, the son is transferred to the TBS Memorial School. A school with no triad influences but it has something worse: fury and anarchy. All often culminating in a fights on the top floor on top of benches. Edward is immediately targeted. Wanting to learn how to defend himself, he turns to the King Of Duel at the school, the now retired Stone (Nicholas Tse). Seeing Stone has troubles with his studies, Edward promises tuition in return. There's also friends made such as the spunky Phoenix (Joey Yung) who falls in love with Edward and enemies made such as top dog at school, Mantis (Samuel Pang), who wants nothing but a duel with the king...
Billy Chung and Wong Jing have a few goals and attempts in mind for My School Mate, The Barbarian. Clearly aiming for a younger viewing audience, this will allow some basic script beats and general silliness to have a "valid" place in their frame. Get your good looking, trim youngsters in front of the camera to duke it out under old master Ching Siu-Tung's fight choreography and obviously this is material bound to be green lit instantly. Across the board there's barely a fit or smooth connection between these contrasting elements though and I'm pretty sure it's not due to me being an older target audience. There is a notion out there having to with with creating an entertaining film also.
With a very hyper sense containing flashy camera moves and wooshy noises for the kidz, we get an early sense what the action crowd is going to get. Unfortunately this early in the film, with no martial artists present, Ching Siu-Tung seems to (or was forced to) make matters quick-cut, shaky and blurry. Something that doesn't translate into excitement. Going a little Class of 1999 on us with the rampant breakdown in the school system, there's no argument put forth that we have a grave or fun satire from Wong and Chung either. It's environments established as a backdrop for tales of friendship, romance and a stay in school message for the kidz.
Hard to complain about that filmmaking but that's on paper-notions. On-screen, anyone should demand more than what we get in My School Mate, The Barbarian. Suggesting an almost 60s style school romance via the soundtrack and the beats that follow being quite basic, it's Stephen Fung and Joey Yung at center of all this and while it may suffice for a younger crowd, how is one to accept filmmakers just doing? Doing without any sincerity, fun or feeling and I swear Hong Kong ones think that IS enough sometimes. Certainly Wong Jing does and he mixes in cartoonish wackiness to be placed in Joey Yung's character... just to inject another contrasting mood. But the break up of that mood leading into a more dangerous plot (cue Billy Chung presumably) doesn't exactly spell flow. Have to say this though, the moods are in reality not as gravely contrasted against each other as other movies. Why it all doesn't work just has to do with lack of ignition and spark in the overall package.
Even the martial arts genre staples with a master/student relationship and the character of Mantis being a classical inclusion, in regards to that Samuel Pang role we at least get one scene where Ching Siu-Tung can strut his stuff a little. The inevitable fight between Pang and Nicholas Tse goes some amusingly wild places, especially when they bring in a ceiling fan into the mix but derailing the wildness with even more wildness ultimately gets Ching Siu-Tung an F- on the project.
Possibly steered by Wong Jing still infatuated with the Street Fighter games (also see City Hunter), the ending fight is ludicrous beyond belief but probably wouldn't have been so if we had approved of basic narrative tactics that were put forth prior. If you're at the point where you have not, this big balls attention grabber of an end fight just signals doom. No amount of flash or the sweaty hair of Nicholas Tse's moving in slow motion could've or should've saved all of the above.
The DVD (Deltamac):
Video: 1.75:1 non-anamorphic widescreen.
Audio: Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 and Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1.
Subtitles: English (fairly frequent gaffs but the entire movie is made clear despite), traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese.
Extras: The trailer.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson