comic Stephen Chow is Tong Pak-Fu, a famous scholar
whose fame as a poet and painter is unparallelled. Unfortunately,
he's also saddled with an abundance of shrill wives
who care only for gambling. Hope arrives in the form
of Chou Heung (Gong Li), a maiden who dazzles Tong with
her beauty and sweet personality. She belongs to a household
run by kung-fu princess Cheng Pei-Pei, so Tong masquerades
as hired help. Hijinks ensue.
This 1993 blockbuster
pretty much illustrates Stephen Chow's position as the
master of "make no sense" comedy. Unlike American
films, there are no pauses for audience laughter. Every
joke is followed by another in quick succession, and
anachronisms and puns are abundant. As such, the the
film can prove inaccessible during scenes of Cantonese
wordplay, and there are also bizarre physical gags that
may seem more puzzling than funny. A viewer who isn't
familiar with Stephen Chow might feel exhausted or annoyed
by the film's onslaught of esoteric humor.
Thankfully, Chow's comic
timing and ample charisma make this a worthwhile endeavor.
In the hands of a lesser comic actor, Tong Pak-Fu could
be seen as simply a conceited, sometimes lovelorn ass.
Thanks to Chow, Tong is lovable and sympathetic despite
possessing personality traits that seem downright unlikable.
As such, the film works
best when it hangs itself on Chow's talents. Gong Li
is beautiful and sweet, but the film doesn't do much
to reinforce her position as China's leading actress.
Her job in Flirting Scholar is to stand around
looking pretty; this is the very definition of a flower
vase role. The other name cameos and actors wander in
and out of the picture, and only Cheng Pei-Pei appears
to be somewhat of a match for him.
Not that it really matters.
Nobody goes to Stephen Chow movies to see him get humbled
by his co-stars. It's Chow who does the humbling, and
he does it in a way that doesn't need any translation
whatsoever. If you can deal with the bizarre otherness
then the film can prove extremely funny. (Kozo 1995/1997)