“Wait ’til you’re Older” is a Hong Kong take on the ever-popular fantasy scenario of a child inhabiting the body of an adult. This is a theme much-beloved of Hollywood screenwriters, with essentially the same film appearing every few years with a different big name taking the chance to act wacky (Tom Hanks in “Big”, Jennifer Garner in “13 Going on 30″). However, it is rare for any of these films to tackle the concept with any kind of emotional depth or feeling of consequence, which is exactly what director Teddy Chan has done in “Wait ’til you’re Older”, and it is this which lifts the film from being a mere rehash of the same old routine or an empty vehicle for the appropriately ageless Andy Lau.
The story follows Kwong, an unhappy boy living with his father (Felix Wong, also in “Drunken Master 2″) and his stepmother (Karen Mok, “So Close”). Kwong desperately misses his real mother, whose death he lays squarely at the feet of his father, causing a great deal of resentment. After running away for the umpteenth time, Kwong comes across a strange inventor (Feng Xiaogang, director of “A World Without Thieves”, in a cameo) and steals a serum which causes rapid growth. An accident follows, and sure enough, Kwong awakes the next morning as Andy Lau.
Passing himself off as the elder brother of one of his friends, Kwong sets about solving the mysteries of adult life, and attempts to woo his teacher, Miss Lee (frequent star of Wong Jing films Cherrie Ying). Unfortunately, things turn out to be far more complicated than he had imagined, and matters are made worse by the fact that his miraculous aging process shows no sign of slowing down.
Although the plot may sound rather familiar, “Wait ’til you’re Older” does actually cover some surprisingly complex emotional ground, and in a way which is rewarding and genuinely moving. Director Chan manages to avoid too many saccharine moments, and though to some extent the film is predictable, it never wallows in cliché or cheap sentiment. In fact, the film goes one step further and bravely moves into territory untouched by similar Hollywood efforts, making an honest attempt to explore questions of mortality. As such, despite the elements of fantasy and a fair amount of comedy, this is not a film aimed at young viewers, but which speaks to adults afraid of growing old and leading wasted lives.
Of course, the film is hugely dependent on Lau’s performance, and thankfully he yet again proves that his acting is far better than his singing. He is pleasingly believable as a character that passes so rapidly through the various stages of life, essentially remaining a child but learning the bitter truth of existence along the way. Charismatic and even charming, Lau shows considerable skill in lifting a role which could easily have degenerated into cheap comedy. The special effects for the aging process are convincing, although they do tend to make Lau’s face look suspiciously smooth during his initial transformation. However, it is to his credit that the character remains constant and recognisable through the film and that his growth never comes across as a gimmick but instead as a natural part of the story.
Chan’s direction suits the theme of the story perfectly, with just enough touches of the surreal to create a fairy tale atmosphere. The film is for the most part filled with bright colours, giving an initial feeling of hope and possibility, which is maintained throughout, even towards the end when the shadows start to creep in. The film moves along quickly, though perhaps too much so, as with a running time of only an hour and a half, a number of subplots, most notably Kwong’s romance with Miss Lee, are blatantly underdeveloped and seem to have been thrown in as an afterthought.
This is a minor criticism, however, and one which does not prevent “Wait ’til you’re Older” from being a highly enjoyable and surprisingly moving film. In fact, the brief running time is eminently preferable to the usual bloated excess which so often plague modern films, and allows the director more than enough space to convey his ideas and themes both effectively and efficiently. The only other flaw, perhaps inevitably, comes in the form of Lau’s singing, with the viewer needlessly being made to suffer as he croons his way through background ballads, threatening though thankfully not quite succeeding in reducing one pivotal scene to unintentional comedy.
Teddy Chan (director) / Suk-Yin Chan, Chi-Kwong Cheung (screenplay)
CAST: Xiaogang Feng …. Bum
Ka Tung Lam ….Vice-Principal Chow
Andy Lau …. Kwong
Karen Mok …. Tsui Mun
Felix Wong …. Chan Man
Cherrie Ying …. Miss Lee