Ah Fai The Dumb (1997)
Directed by: Derek Chiu
With the body of a grown man but the IQ of a kid, Fai (Eric Kot) has his mom (May Law - I Have A Date With Spring) leave him to indulge herself in marriage bliss. Staying with close friend Little Ping (Andy Hui) and his family, one day Fai jumps off a roof trying to catch his Sailor Moon club and receives a serious concussion. While at the hospital, doctors also removes a tumor that turns dumb Fai into smart Fai. Not only that, he's received skills to predict character's futures too. It does spell d doom for his past relationships and wealth for the corporate elite as they begin exploiting Fai...
Fresh from acclaim with The Log and on his way towards honing a smart, unique view on cinema (best served up in Comeuppance), Derek Chiu directed this well-meaning but highly bland comedy-drama that gets killed off pretty quickly thanks to the whirlwind of annoyance Eric Kot. Ironically enough Chiu's most successful movie at the box-office, obviously the role of idiot is a fitting tribute to Kot's "skills" and the intended journey could've been ACTUALLY fitting. Off the mark and not up to the task, Ah Fai The Dumb presents its themes and ideas, getting no reaction other than "well, it was all good ideas" from its audience.
Surrounding the idiot Fai with a cast of characters in transition towards finding a will to strive forward or even turning their backs on their dreams, at heart there is early abandonment as Fai's mother finds the excuse that he could probably manage himself at 27. Plus, the son won't know what hit him anyway. There's still good dramatic instincts on display. Sharing home with a surrogate family now, mainly consisting of best friend and probably best caretaker of Fai, aspiring dancer and singer Little Ping (TUT-TUT on the irony horn, the actor Andy Hui is in real life a known singer and dancer) as well as Athena Chu's Man, a bootleg CD-ROM seller with a crush on Ping, there's STILL good dramatic instincts on display. Hopes and dreams of these characters have to do with compromises, especially for Ping who practices the acrobatic rituals of Taoist priesthood at funerals but sneaks off to eventually join forces with another aspiring dancer (Ada Choi - Love & Sex Among The Ruins) Structure for these films usually mean that the idiot of the piece brings characters together via his or her warmth but little of that merchandise can be found as Eric Kot's storms his way through the frame.
This is no tuned performance akin to Chow Yun-Fat's Chocolate in God Of Gamblers, probably because there's no actual good performer steering this boat. Director Derek Chiu does nothing to stop this and seems to put all his hope into Raymond To's script. Truth of the matter is that To's writing isn't bad but words alone cannot carry action. Structurally Fai's awakening means confronting his own family, now that he knows the hurt that has been inflicted upon him and there's STILL GOOD DRAMATIC INSTINCTS ON DISPLAY! Chiu wisely plays little with his otherwise trademark irony or quirkiness because the story template can easily carry itself. Some views on the corporations utilizing Fai's prophetic skills and the commercialism that comes with his gift are notable jabs but despite still being in territory in writing that has opportunities, the fact that we're also on a predictable path makes the proceedings as handled by Chiu continually fail to amuse or touch.
Neither subtle or ham-fisted, although one or combo of both could've made Ah Fai The Dumb work better to some extent, the morals and lessons learned continues to equal intentions of the better kind and yes, it's very true that the film stays consistently well-meaning. Flawed characters are good for purposes of learning that it's bad to turn away but right to learn to turn back. You can afford the mistake hopefully but Derek Chiu certainly couldn't and still save Ah Fai The Dumb. Performances by Andy Hui, Athena Chu, May Law and Ada Choi seriously fade into the background in "favour" of Kot's loud-mouthed rampage but if one thing is to be taken away from the film in terms of positives, it's Kot's brief flashes of calm behaviour and one scene of emotional breakdown that is genuinely touching. It's a reminder of highlights that were to come, mainly in Wilson Yip's Juliet In Love and Yan Yan Mak's Butterfly. He should be encouraged, to do the acting thingy. Now that's one instinct that wasn't sound in this failed production.
Mei Ah presents the film in an aspect ratio of 1.72:1 approximately. Possibly sourced from their laserdisc, print is relatively clean but has faded colours and poor sharpness that overall makes the film look rather dull.
The Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 track has surround activity but contains itself largely to the center channel. While adequate, distortion rears its head several times when Eric Kot shouts the most, which is quite often. A Mandarin 2.0 dub is also included.
The imbedded Chinese/English subtitles are fully readable and while quite ropey on occasion, concerning spelling and grammar, they do make sense mostly in addition to even explaining some of the word puns that turns up a few times during the flick. There are no extras.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson