Monday, November 30, 2009

Feel Good Movies: Stephen Chow Battles Bad Guys and Books in "Fight Back to School"

Chow Sing-Sing (Stephen Chow), on the verge of being disqualified from the police force, Special Duties Unit (SDU), is sent on an undercover mission to recover a senior officer's stolen pistol. Unfortunately, Sing-Sing is to pose as a student, and while he can brave terrorists and gunfights, he finds the idea of returning to school absolutely horrific. Before long, finding a missing gun takes a backseat to Sing-Sing's frequent bouts with trouble, as he falls asleep during lectures and typically skips his homework. The cop finds solace in Miss Ho (Sharla Cheung Man), and Sing-Sing quickly falls for the sweet, compassionate woman, who becomes his tutor. Partnered with another undercover officer, "Uncle" Tat (Ng Man-Tat), posing as the school janitor and also as Sing-Sing's father, Sing-Sing stumbles upon an arms smuggling case.

Fight Back to School (1991) is a perfect example of Hong Kong comedian Stephen Chow's brand of comedy, known as mo lei tau, which roughly translates to, "Makes no sense." While some of this particular style of comedy doesn't quite work for English-speaking audiences (especially the great deal of word play within the dialogue), the absurd manner in which many of the scenes play out is amusing for viewers of any language. For instance, Tat, in an effort to stop smoking, often chews on a stick or a hairbrush. He even replicates exhaling smoke, and at one point in the film, with no explanation given, he actually breathes out smoke. Chow's comedy also includes classic slapstick. Sing-Sing is actually Tat's superior, but with Tat playing his father, he must display his authority in front of others. As soon as people's backs are turned, however, the two men scuffle like children.

At its heart, the movie is about the underdog rising above seemingly unbeatable odds. Chow shines at playing such characters. Even when he's playing unlikable men, such as 1996's The God of Cookery, chances are that he will see the error of his ways and will redeem himself. The romance between Sing-Sing and Miss Ho is cute, another trademark of Chow's films. Many of the actor's leading ladies have been excellent, noteworthy actresses, such as Brigitte Lin (1992's Royal Tramp II), Karen Mok (1995's A Chinese Odyssey I and II), Gong Li (1993's Flirting Scholar), Anita Mui (1992's Justice, My Foot!), and Carina Lau (1996's Forbidden City Cop).

Fight Back to Sch
ool was followed by two sequels: Fight Back to School II (1992), in which Sing-Sing has to pose as a student once again, and Fight Back to School III (1993), which drops the "school," but does follow Sing-Sing going undercover. While Cheung has starred in quite a few movies with Chow (and appears in both sequels), actor Ng Man-Tat has had the privilege of being Chow's co-star the most frequently, including the God of Gamblers sequels (1990 and 1991), Tricky Brains (1991), Love on Delivery (1994), The Lucky Guy (1998), and King of Comedy (1999). Watching the two actors together is a treat!

In 1990, Chow starred in All for the Winner, a parody of Wong Jing's very popular 1989 gambling film, God of Gamblers (starring Chow Yun-Fat). Chow became a star in Hong Kong virtually overnight when his film proved just as successful as the film it was making fun of. By 1992, Chow was so popular that he had starred in the top five grossing films of that year. He broke box office records in 2001 with his charming, effects-laden Shaolin Soccer (also starring Vicki Zhao Wei and, not surprisingly, Ng Man-Tat). Though his record was broken the following year with Infernal Affairs (remade in America in 2006 as The Departed, directed by Martin Scorsese), Chow was the champ again in 2004 with his outstanding action epic, Kung Fu Hustle, for which he finally achieved fame in the U.S.


  1. Sark, what a terrific choice to close out a month of “Feel Good” movies. Stephen Chow is simply one of the best comic actors in the world today. I have not seen any of the FIGHT BACK TO SCHOOL movies, which sound delightful. However, I have had the privilege of seeing Stephen in THE GOD OF COOKERY, SHAOLIN SOCCER, and KUNG FU HUSTLE—all three of which were incredibly enjoyable. Now, I’ll be on the lookout for FIGHT BACK TO SCHOOL! (By the way, I also appreciate that you chose an international film…it’s easy to focus on English-language movies because they’re so accessible…but classic cinema is a worldwide treasure.)

  2. Sark and Rick, I am completely unfamiliar with most foreign-made films. It is very interesting to me to hear about those that are worth looking for. Great article, Sark.

  3. Sark, This sounds like a very funny movie. Thank you for your wonderful review.

  4. You write very convincingly, Sark, about a movie that "mo lei tau." And it really sounds like fun, too! I do find it interesting wondering about the dialogue translations, especially when some subtitles have poor English and spelling. But visual humor speaks a language all its own.
    Thanks for a very informative, well-written article!