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Young People (Nian qing ren, 1972)

Chang Cheh

Hong Kong

118 min, color, Mandarin (English subtitles)

Review © 2004 Branislav L. Slantchev

OK, so I put this DVD in the player and settle down fully expecting a true Chang Cheh film complete with heroic male bonding, preferably involving sweaty half-naked muscular bodies, heroic bloodshed, preferably involving slo-mo scenes of gruesome pain, heroic larger than life characters, preferably involving some fatal flaw that has something to do with a woman, and so on. Of course, I knew this would be a 'modern' film, so I expected the action to take place in the gritty streets of Hong Kong.

Wu Ma hazes new recruit Agnes Chan First (of many) interminable saccharine song

It starts badly. There's a truly long and boring dance number set to a cheesy 1960s tune. Just when I sigh with relief that it's over Agnes Chan shows up and begins strumming an acoustic guitar. Just when I hope against hope that this would be the end, she delivers the coup de grace and sings. It's awful. It's worse than awful: it's painful. Just when I have reconciled myself to aural agony, my sight is assaulted by the throng of gyrating bodies. After a long while I realize that they are doing a dance number set to the cheesy music. It really begins to look like a bad choice for tonight.

Ti Lung is a basketball dumbass bully Romance in the air... and only there

Finally, we get some conflict. David Chiang is the drummer in the music band/dance troupe. He believes that "all you need is love" (which is what I believe plus I also believe you need money, time, and a small world to rule, with love of course). Ti Lung is the captain of the basketball team and they, in true athlete fashion, despise our artsy guys. To show this contempt, they hit Wu Ma with a baseball ball on the head. This makes him long to train in kung fu. Unfortunately, the third group of kung fu practitioners also despises the artsy types although they are not fond of the athletes either.

Irene Chen trap Ti Lung in the locker room Pink Syrup

If this crackling suspense does not get your pulse going, there's the femme fatale, this time all adorned in pink. Irene Chen is a brainless but open floozie who shags up with the dude who happens to be most popular at the moment. First it's Chen Kuan Tai, then Ti Lung, then back to Chen, then an attempt (failed) with David Chiang, and finally a sad ending with Wu Ma. But before all this happens, I have to endure an entire basketball game (our team wins thanks to a truly noble act of Chinese chiropractics by Chen Kuan Tai). Then, just when I think that the film will become a tragic love story complete with sweaty half-naked bodies and heroic bloodshed, David Chiang takes to swinging Wu Ma.

Chen Kuan Tai's master class Wu Ma in early monkey impersonation

The only true Chang Cheh component is the woman (brrrr....). As in every one of his films that has a creature of the opposite sex, Young People presents the woman as the upsetter of balance, the bringer of disharmony, and the causer of everything that is indecent in the world. This means that Irene Chen is doomed to be taught some "lesson" so that the three main male characters could unite in male friendship involving half-naked sweaty bodies.

Women are the root of all evil Has any girl ever done that?

After improbably pummeling both Ti Lung and Chen Kuan Tai, David Chiang gets them all to love and adore each other, which they proceed to demonstrate by winning a carting contest. This occasions the teaching of the fundamental lesson to Irene, and she is left holding thin air while the male chauvinist group runs off to bond in truly manly fashion. Did I mention the sweaty half-naked bodies? The carting race (which we see in its entirety) would have been heroic if its were not for those dorky helmets.

Parking space dispute Arguing the fine points of Hegel

Just when I think the two-hour torture session is over, it culminates in the final musical number, which involves socialist-style gymnastics and another syrupy performance by Agnes Chan. It's that bad and corny, trust me. As I am about to puke into the box, I hear the stolen riffs from a Uriah Heep song and my spirits lighten up just in time for the closing credits. This film would have been mildly entertaining if it was 65 minutes long. But at twice that length it really delivers a totally unforgettable punch that I will desperately try to forget. Bad performances all around except Chen Kuan Tai and Ti Lung which can turn every stupid scene into an interesting brawl.

It don't get cornier or cheesier... ... oh well, I guess it does!

The Celestial Pictures DVD does not punish the film with a bad presentation. We get the 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer but the audio is mono and Mandarin only. The extras include a photo gallery, talent files, and trailers. Definitely not worth buying unless you are a Chang Cheh completist, in which case it's nice to have such a radical and corny departure from his normal oeuvre.

July 1, 2004