Saturday, December 4, 2010

Young People (1972), starring David Chiang, Ti Lung and Chen Kuan-tai. Directed by Chang Cheh.

WHOEVER is still holding out on purchasing a copy of Young People for non-economical reasons, let me reassure you that as widespread as the opinions are on the Shaw Brothers film, this is a special release from director Chang Cheh and script co-writer Ni Kuang worth getting. After its availability as a download (and an illegal one at that), what are the chances this will seriously be reissued again on DVD or VCD (even BD) after it goes out-of-print? Even though Cheh has a following around the globe, it's not a huge one, so it's probable his lesser-known releases shall fade away into the ages, while newer generations of fans and film scholars will dissect a selection of his movies (like One-Armed Swordsman, Vengeance!, The Duel or The Five Venoms) ad nauseam. If you feel my theory has some merit, then buy Young People now, 'cuz the window of opportunity may be closing.

Flavored with a lot of location filming at Chung Chi College (a Christian college founded in 1951, affiliated with the Chinese University of Hong Kong), YP is Cheh and Kuang's scattershot attempt to understand college-age young adults. (Our heroes are never seen in classes, by the way.) They are all over the map when comes to their presentation of what they think makes the minds of men and women in their earlier twenties tick. YP can only be safely classified as a Cheh movie; to categorize it as something else is pointless because it's fragments of genres and homages to other films, all of them tied together with a very basic plot.

To simplify the story, which has been re-counted many times in other reviews, it's the jocks (led by Ti Lung) versus the martial arts club (led by Chen Kuan-tai), with the performing arts club (led by neo-hippie David Chiang) somewhere in the middle. While the basketball players and purveyors of kung fu vie for the school's honor (not to mention Lung and Kuan-tai competing for the charms of fickle Irene Chan), the dancers and "band geeks" prepare for the school's anniversary celebration. How does Chiang unite these two hot-headed guys in friendship? Through peace, go carts and dance choreography!

So, what is there to enjoy in YP? Let's start with some intentional things:

1) Irene Chan! From her first scene onward, she makes you want to see the movie to the end. Anyone who has said there isn't any comedy in this wasn't paying attention to her work. The sequence where she barges into the mens' locker room before the big basketball game is a riot; her facial ex-pressions as the guys hurriedly cover up are priceless. She goes from Kuan-tai to Lung (and back to Kuan-tai) without much thought put into it beyond the fact they won trophies, which seems to be what draws her to them. When she loses both guys, you know she deserves this comeuppance, yet you can't help but feel sorry for her because for all her charms, she's still a ways off from being  a mature woman. Chan's combination of sexiness and fine acting in the role of Princess is one of the better peformances of a leading lady in any Cheh movie out there.

2) Bolo Yeung! One favorite Bruce Lee nemesis is (mostly) cast against type as one of the jocks. Not only can he play basketball, he is also adept at comedy; his scene where he and Wong Chung make fun of Kuan-tai's speech patterns (he speaks no more than three words at a time) is pure goofy fun. He's a sight to see with his crewcut and wearing those way-out '70s fashions. (Dig that visor!) He's not a constant presence in the picture, but when he's on, he easily catches your attention in an atypical part.

3) "The Blood Brothers!" Well, at the time, Lung, Chiang and Kuan-tai were yet to be in that '73 film, but if you happen to watch TBB after seeing YP, you'll never look at the former movie again in quite the same way. The guys are cast to type; Lung is the BMOC, Kuan-tai is the soft-spoken karate expert and Chiang is the drummer who feels all the world needs now is love, sweet love. As silly as the film is, the trio give their all and make the situations feel somewhat plausible. (If you think Lung is bad in this, please reacquaint yourself with his spot-on John Cassavettes imitation in Black Magic [1975], and stand corrected!)

What elements enhance YP by accident, if not design? They would be:

1) The music! For a flick that's designed to appeal to youthful moviegoers, the sound-track is as big as Woodstock: Snoopy's friend, not the festival. After the opening where Chiang does an "edgy" drum solo, we get three watered-down folk songs from Agnes Chan, the younger sister of Irene. She's cute and competently sings (in English) "The Circle Game", "You've Got a Friend" and a bad lyrical rip-off of "What the World Needs Now is Love". Except for an ambitious MTV-like interlude in "YGaF" (pictured), she's showcased with meaningless background dancing and a finale (set during the great anniversary assembly) where she seemingly enters and exits by way of crane or hot air balloon! Another performer (even a mere dude with a guitar) would've added variety to the production, but since Agnes got a HK hit with "TCG", somebody thought she was all the film needed (and could afford). To top it all off, the recordings she lip-syncs to are of a lower fidelity than the rest of the incidental music; to hear how her songs sound, you'd swear records were directly dubbed onto the film's audio track.

2) The "big events!" Besides running too long, the basketball game suffers from bad foley work; where are all the squeaking tennis shoes? (Also, Fan Mei Sheng gets a billing in the movie, yet he's barely seen in his sole appearance as a bench-warmer in the game! Fu Sheng gets more screen-time in all his little cameos combined.) The go cart competition is slightly better with some filming taking place during a real race. Chiang, Lung and Kuan-tai are actually driving in many parts, which is a big plus; only the race's conclusion will make you roll your eyes. The anniversary show is just bizarre, featuring dancing inspired by West Side Story (and a precursor to the dancing in the "Earth" portion of Heaven and Hell), more drumming by Chiang, and little Agnes; it's the HK version of a Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney musical! The karate tournament comes off best as Kuan-tai dazzles all with his skills; Lau Kar Wing and Tong Gaai co-ordinated the fighting action, so all the other principals who had to bust a move here (or in other parts of the picture) were well trained to do so.

3) The "hip" script! Whoever did the lion's share of work on the story, Cheh or Kuang, doesn't matter; there's plenty of blame to go around about the using whatever it took to make YP appear on the "cutting edge" and "with it"... by 1972 standards. The clothes, the walkie talkies, a David Cassidy poster (in Agnes Chan's room), the music (kinda), product placement (7Up, Schweppes and Viceroy cigarettes), go carts and a dune buggy add to your viewing enjoyment by being so woefully out of date from the first day YP played in HK cinemas right into the 21st century. Anyone who has attended college in the past 30 years knows the only bit of college they got right in YP is when Chiang and his friends take a beer break!

Though the main characters in YP are stereotypes, all that unfolds in almost two hours' time doesn't stoop to the level of an Archie comic. (Wu Ma with a "crown" like Jughead's would be too much.) The plot (and the humor) seems to have been inspired (or stolen) from American International's "beach" movies (with Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello), especially Beach Blanket Bingo. (Observe the comedic fight of the jocks against the martial artists, and substitute go carts for skydiving.) In fact, this is the only Cheh movie that could be rated PG (PG-13 if you think the violence harsh) by today's standards, so if you have to play a Chang Cheh film with your grandma present, this is the one. Those who prefer their "yang gang" fix with Shaw blood all over the widescreen will want to pass on this.

The IVL DVD is the usual slick, bare bones package. An original HK trailer would've provided some insight in how YP was sold to movie patrons back in '72, but all the promos on the disc are produced by Celestial. The new English subs are hilarious in two spots where the Mandarin translator throws in more recent slang; relish Ti Lung saying "homeboy" and "hommie" (SIC)!

After Susanna, YP is one of my favorite Shaw "guilty pleasures." If you don't try to compare it to Animal House or The Paper Chase, you'll have a good time wondering how Chang Cheh became the unofficial spokesman for the younger generation of Hong Kong...if not the world!

Recommended by Brother Fang!

Keeping it trivial....

Fang Shih-yu, Shaolin Temple.

P.S. - Purchase it from PlayAsia by clicking here..


  1. A very generous and thoughtful review! And super great screencaps; the whole blog is very attractive. This is real archive material (but without my comment, of course).

    I sped up most of the film by 1.5x or 2x, which worked a lot better for me (I'm too much of an action junkie to deal with a film whose greatest risks are falling down on a basketball court and overturning a go-kart). Did you notice the go-cart scene is structured exactly like the typical three-act kung fu finale? haha! For some reason I also felt it was a plus seeing the actors actually driving their little carts. As Chen Kuan Tai says, you gotta do your own stunts or you lose face!

  2. Thank you, my dear achillesgirl! Your comments are always welcomed! :o)

    I hadn't thought of the go cart scene like you did until I read your reply; a most remarkable observation! I bow to you, my good lady!

    This was one of those "old drafts" revisited, and my reworking of it was worth the effort! Future reviews will be more commentary than plot summaries (with very few exceptions).

    I think Young People is to Chang Cheh what 1941 is to Steven Spielberg! (I thought 1941 was OK, but Steven was out of his element with comedy, to a point.) If only "misfires" by other directors could be just as entertaining!

  3. I liked this one a lot, Fang. It definitely had a big Hollywood vibe about it. Plus, it was a blast seeing kung fu regulars trading in swords for guitars and basketballs. Next to DEAD END (1969), this is possibly the best of the Chang Cheh directed/produced youth movies.

    Agnes Chen was quite big at the time, so her participation was a big deal. Have you seen her star turn alongside David Chiang in THE GENERATION GAP? That ones pretty good, too.

  4. YP can't be stopped, venoms5! I love the irony in how Chang Cheh, a director known for movies with "heroic bloodshed", filmed part of this at a Christian college!

    The Generation Gap is one I do want to get; it will be interesting to see Agnes Chen in more of a dramatic part!

    I've seen Agnes in a lot of YouTube videos; a more recent version of "The Circle Game" I saw her do (to her own guitar playing) sounded more assured and mature, and she's still cute!

    I wonder what Irene Chen looks like, these days?

    If Cheh had the opportunity to do another movie (or two) like YP, can you imagine what that'd be like? Too bad a sequel was never meant to be!

  5. Cool, I'll have to look for that on youtube, then!

    James Dean was one of Cheh's favorite performers so I'd say movies like REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE were instrumental in Cheh doing all those delinquent films and maybe even a bit of Dean is in all those CC martial heroes as well.

  6. Oh, yes; Dean and Marlon Brando are the two actors cited as Cheh's favorites.

    Any notion of who else he liked, actors or directors? It's a guess he liked Kurosawa, and he must have liked Hideo Gosha if he adapted Three Outlaw Samurai into The Magnificent Trio!

  7. Seijun Suzuki (I think I spelled it right) was another I recall. He was fond of Japanese gangster pictures.

  8. Thank you for the info, venoms5!

    More fun stuff to look up! :o)