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My Schoolmate,The Barbarian

Tai Seng // Unrated // April 22, 2003
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted March 24, 2003 | E-mail the Author
TBS high school is where all of the problem kids go. Despite being inner city poor and rough around the edges, the school does have one practice that has ruled out any hallway scuffles and mob activity- if you have a problem with someone, you just challenge them to a fight. No one can refuse and no one breaks the rules. You go upstairs, push some desks together, they turn on the ceiling fans, and you duke it out. Hit the floor or get knocked out and you lose the fight but keep some honor. Win and you get respect.

Edward Chan is a privileged, intelligent kid with his life ahead of him when an obsessed girlfriend frames him and he is kicked out of his top level school. A further mix-up in re-assigning leads to Edward being enrolled in TBS. Unaware of the rules, the brainy Edward must learn how to fight and finds help from Rock, the schools former Fight King, who dropped out for a year and upon his return vowed not to fight anymore.

Edward makes new fefriends Rock and Phoenix, a high strung girl with a crush on him, tutors them, helping Rock pass finals in exchange for Rock's lessons on how to fight. But, the bullies at the school still have it in for Edward. Eventually, Rock will have to break his vow and tangle with the schools new champ, Brother Mantis, as well as a lethal Triad boss in order to save his friend, and Edward will have to find the brave fighter within himself.

You know, I am one of those HK cinema fans who bemoans the lack of rough and tumble HK action like they produced in the 70's, 80's, and early 90's, before the pop idols took over and most HK films became slick flashy MTV productions. Lets face it, most of these recent stars are the equivalent of David Cassidey, their talent lies in pretty boy coy looks and not deep internal acting ability or martial prowess. My Schoolmate, the Barbarian (2002) stars handsome young poster boys Stephen Fung as Edward and Nic Tse as Rock and has a mass teen appeal styishness of the newer wave of HK films. And, despite my dislike for the genre, it is also an entertaining exception.

Courtesy of signature HK b-film director Wong Jing (High Risk, God of Gamblers, New Legend of Shaolin) and action choreographer Ching Siu Tung (Chinese Ghost Story Trilogy, Swordsman 2, Heroic Trio), formerly one of the HK cinema greats whose career dry-up was due to all of HK's late 90's new wave, pretty boy action syndromes. In terms of pure saccharine, manga-inspired entertainment they deliver. While there are bits of comedy that fall flat, the very annoying spazzing chick love interest complete with annoying ugly girl sidekick, and predictable characters/plotting, it still manages to gel thanks to some decent fights (only somewhat hampered by Wong Jings hyper cutting and angles) and the chemistry between Stephen Fung and Nic Tse, who worked together before in Gen X Cops. They have a familiarity that meshes well and even this jaded HK viewer will admit that they mange to bring lots of charisma to their roles.

And it is just that simple- it is fluff, but entertaining fluff. It doesn't do anything to change the cinematic HK action landscape, but it has character and an energy and outweighs its predictability and dull jokes.

The DVD: Tai Seng

Picture: Non-anamorphic Widescreen. For a recent film, the image is pretty rough and shows some spots and dirt. Overall the contrast, colors, and sharpness are all decent, but this is really a B grade print and transfer. It is certainly fine and watchable, even probably worth owing, especially considering the HK Deltamac release exhibits the same problems. After all, it was probably a pretty low budget affair to begin with, but there is little doubt it could be spruced up a bit, a smoother print found, and made anamorphic.

Sound: Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS, or Mandarin language options with optional yellow English subtitles. This is a good example of no matter how you package a lackluster soundtrack, it is still going to stink. Now, the sound is fine, don't get me wrong, but it does have a low rent quickly produced HK feel. So despite the snazzy 5.1 and DTS options, they cannot improve the already generic and hollow fx score and the cheesy keyboard scoring.

Extras: Chapter Selections--- Trailers for the film, both US and HK versions, as well as trailers for Dragon Inn and The Duel.--- Commentary by HK cinema author Ric Meyers and Tai Seng honcho Frank Djeng. Honestly I only listened to about 20-30 mins worth of commentary. It seemed okay enough but suffers from being a third person (were not involved with the film in any way) commentary where they pretty much talk about generalized stuff most HK fans already know, like the genre style and the cast and crews other work.

Conclusion: Well, I was entertained and pretty surprised at how much I liked the film. Anyone with an affinity for HK action and comedy will probably enjoy this film and find it a pleasant enough diversion for an evening. The DVD isn't exactly all roses, so the more discerning movie fan may want to hold off and rent it. There isn't really a better version to purchase, so the curious will have to make do with this or the HK edition.

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