Though a massive hit back in its day, and now fondly remembered as an old school piece of Stephen Chow nonsense, “Flirting Scholar” was always an unlikely candidate for a sequel, especially without the presence of its original star. Nevertheless, a good 17 years later “Flirting Scholar 2” finally arrives, directed by Lee Lik Chi, who worked with Chow several times in the past on the likes of “Love on Delivery” and the awesome “God of Cookery”. Although the odds may seem to be stacked against the film, wacky period comedies have been enjoying a resurgence of late, and it does have a popular star in the form of Huang Xiaoming, recently also in “Ip Man 2” and “The Message”.
As a means of making Chow’s absence less of an issue, the film is a prequel, with Huang Xiaoming playing a younger incarnation of saucy scholar Tong Bak Fu. This aside, it’s pretty much business as usual, as Tong and his three friends, Tsui Ching Hing (Richie Jen), Chuk Chi Shan (Nat Chan), and Man Ching Ming (Zhou Libo) basically just spend their time chasing girls and trying to out-scheme each other. Understandably concerned for her son’s future, Tong’s mother (Mimi Chu) sends him off to an elite boarding school and bans him from using his powerful kung fu. Needless to say, this only results in more hi-jinks, as there turns out to be more to the school than meets the eye – not that Tong notices, being more concerned with wooing the beautiful and mysterious Cin Cin (Zhang Jingchu, “Aftershock”).
Unsurprisingly, “Flirting Scholar 2” sticks very close to the tried and tested Stephen Chow formula, with director Lee pulling together lots of familiar gags and riffs, lifting a number of scenes from “God of Cookery” in particular. The film also borrows from other Hong Kong comedy classics, notably the “Lucky Stars” series, even pinching the old favourite of a dragged out scene of a character believing himself to be invisible whilst prancing around naked. The film certainly goes for an all out assault of wackiness, and whilst this does result in a fair few groan inducing (or just plain baffling) misses, it generates the appropriate air of nonsense and makes for some amusing moments of surreal irreverence. With most of the characters being treated like human cartoons, being kicked into the air and suffering considerable amounts of bizarre slapstick punishment, it certainly helps that the film has far better production values than most of its recent peers, with some half decent effects along with the colourful costumes and sets.
Obviously, the film does suffer from not having Chow reprise his role, though Huang Xiaoming does a pretty decent job of stepping into his shoes. Whilst his performance is predictably mostly an impression of his predecessor, and a bit forced at times, he’s generally amiable enough to pull it off, making for a likeable and charismatic lead and showing respectable comedic timing. The rest of the ensemble cast lend a hand, and are on good form, all sacrificing their dignity in the name of low brow humour. The film has less of a focus on the Tong Bak Fu character, spending as much time following around his cronies, and though this does make the film even more chaotic and scattershot, it again helps to compensate somewhat for the lack of Chow’s star power.
All of this results in “Flirting Scholar 2” being much better than it has any right to be, and though it lacks the manic energy and creativity of the original, it’s much more amusing than other recent period comedies. Though there’s no doubting that its lowest common denominator stuff, with properly adjusted expectations it is still perfectly enjoyable nonsense, and in many ways a welcome throwback to the glory days of 1990s Hong Kong wackiness.
Lik Chi Lee (director)
CAST: Xiaoming Huang