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January 29th, 2001 Issue #47

Hong Kong Digital is a recurring series of movie reviews by John Charles -- a film reviewer for Video Watchdog magazine and the author of The Hong Kong Filmography.

The Teacher Without Chalk
(2000; Power Point Film Production): 4/10

Cover art courtesy Winson.

Lau man si biu

Liu mang shi biao

Riff Raff Teacher

Elvis Tsui Kam-kong (left) and Ken Lo Wai-Kwong (right). Image courtesy Winson.

Liverpool Memorial Secondary School is in major financial trouble, so the board chairman (played by executive producer Henry Fong Ping) declares that one class must be dropped in order to cut costs. Class E, the dumping ground for all of the institution's most belligerent and uncooperative students, is chosen and the principal (Elvis Tsui Kam-kong) could not be happier. All he has to do is get the kids through the remainder of the term and they are out of his hair forever (so to speak). That is actually a tall order, given the fact that 16 substitute teachers have tried and failed to bring them under control.

Takuya Komatsu (left) and Yoyo Mung Kar-wai (right). Image courtesy Winson.

Mousy teacher May Lo (Yoyo Mung Kar-wai) is ordered to find a replacement and, out of desperation, turns to old classmate Cheung Ying (Nick Cheung Kar-fai). Now a decidedly small-time triad, Ying is hardly the man for the job and only lasts five minutes before the students drive him away. However, May inspires him to come back the next day and Ying's new lesson plan (like taking the class on an evening field trip to Mongkok for a look at "The Dark Side of Society") starts to win the kids over. Together, Ying and May help to get their charges out of various jams and the goo wak jai begins to develop feelings for his old schoolmate (who is gradually opening up and shedding her ugly duckling demeanour). But what can be done to save Class E from extinction?

Nick Cheung Kar-fai and students. Image courtesy Winson.

For much of its running time, THE TEACHER WITHOUT CHALK is essentially a mild variation on Stephen Chiau's FIGHT BACK TO SCHOOL series, combined with bits from TRUANT HEROES and THE TRUE HERO, and the usual TO SIR, WITH LOVE template of wayward kids finding the right road in life. However, neither Nick Cheung nor director Albert Mak Kai-kwong can squeeze many laughs out of this set-up and the film goes completely off-course in the final third, when writer Lo Yiu-fai drops the comedy almost entirely in favor of half-baked drama. Yoyo Mung remains appealing and some of the supporting cast (including Karen Mok Man-wai as a mysterious nun and Ken Lo Wai-kwong as the school's insanely strict discipline officer) manage to coax a few smiles. Co-star Takuya Komatsu (as a Japanese teacher who can't speak Japanese but is fluent in Mandarin) is utterly plastic, while Michael Chan Wai-man, Ben Lam Kwok-bun, and Jamie Luk Kim-ming also pop up in small roles, giving their usual characterizations.

Yoyo Mung. Image courtesy Winson.

DVD Specs:

Winson #WDV 3050T
Dolby Digital (2.0 and 5.1)
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Optional Subtitles In English and Chinese (Traditional or Simplified)
9 Chapters Illustrated In the Menu With Clips
Letterboxed (1.75:1)
Coded for ALL Regions
Category IIB (for some off-color humor and mild violence)
95 Minutes

DVD menu courtesy Winson.

THE TEACHER WITHOUT CHALK is another weak effort from Winson, a company whose DVDs have been a decidedly unimpressive lot thus far. The source print is speckled from start to finish, contrasts are weak, and the image has been artificially sharpened. The sound is harsh and distorted; the 5.1 options just spread the mono signal out and offer no improvement. In contrast to Winson's DVDs of THE WARNING TIME and COLD WAR (reviewed in previous issues), there are no sync problems with the subtitles though, during a song, the English subs simply read "##," while the Chinese ones provide a proper rendering of the lyrics. Extras consist of trailers for an untitled Japanese film, X-COP GIRLS, UNDERCOVER BLUES (which suffers from horrid contrast problems), and the anime GRANDMA AND HER GHOSTS (which features English narration and Cantonese dialogue). The copy previewed froze at 1:12:25 for a few seconds.

Nick Cheung. Image courtesy Winson.

Copyright © John Charles 2000, 2001. All Rights Reserved.

Hong Kong Digital is presented in association with Hong Kong Entertainment News In Review