Big Brother (2018), directed by Ka-Wai Kam, is a dramatic film starring Donnie Yen in the lead role about a down-to-earth, strait-laced, former military veteran turned high school teacher who tries to bring inspiration and hope to the lives of his home classroom of would be drop out students caught up in a flawed Hong Kong educational system that is focused on test results and not on the well-being of its students. It’s a feel good film with a touching performance by Donnie Yen as Henry Chen Xia who returns to his alma mater to teach following a troubled adolescent past, a stint in the US military, and a soul searching journey to find himself. The film is sub-titled in English.
The film follows the story of Heny Chen Xia as he attempts to inspire and change the outlook and behavior of his students and shape their lives who come to class with a host of challenges against the machinations of a greedy entrepreneur, Boss Zhang, who is desirous to see the school close so he can turn it into luxury condos, and his hired thugs led by Kane Kuo to make it happen, and an educational bureaucracy that has put the high school on life support because of its students lackluster test results. It also follows the trials and tribulations of some of his most difficult students which crisscross with Henry’s efforts to be a force of social good. The movie plot poses a number of intriguing questions. Will he be able to make a difference and win over the hearts of his troubled students? Can he be a catalyst for social change? Will the high school close?
There is so much to love about the film. The opening shot says it all and the challenges he faces when he arrives on the first day of school to find his uninterested and defensive students cooking up a storm, playing games, chatting away or asleep at their desk. Their resistance continues to the next day when they try to prank him. Yen gives a touching performance as a caring teacher who doesn’t lose his temper and finds opportunities to use as teachable moments. The two fighting scenes in the film where he takes on a locker room filled with MMA fighters to rescue his student Jack and at the school to free his students from the clutches of Kane Kuo and his thugs don’t disappoint and are well choreographed and executed. They leave you with a hankering for more but alas Big Brother isn’t a martial arts film. The film shines a light on the challenges of five of his most troubled students in his home classroom at Tak Chi Secondary School and his efforts to change their lives by orchestrating interventions which are not only imaginative but cut to the heart of the matter. These students include Faiyaz Ahan aka Gordon (Gordon Lau), a Hong Konger of Pakistani descent, who dreams of becoming a canto-pop singer, and must deal with social prejudice. There’s Gladys (Gladys Li) who hates being a girl because of her father’s indifference to her but loves cars and dreams of becoming a Formula One race car driver. There’s the twin brothers Chris and Bruce (Bruce and Chris Tong) who were abandoned by their mother at a young age, and live with an alcoholic father. Bruce has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Chris is addicted to video games. There’s Jack (Jack Lok), an orphan with a rebellious streak, who comes to school tired from working shifts at a restaurant at night to help support his aged grand-mother. His parents died in a car accident when he was young. One of the most tender scenes in the film is seeing his students beg him to come back and not leave them when he is axed. It’s a full circle moment in the film. The scenes of Henry’s travels are beautifully shot and give a richness and complexity to the film and to his back story.
The dramatic tension in the film never lets up and will keep you in suspense as the narrative of Henry’s life and mission crisscrosses with those of his students as he battles MMA fighters and thugs and must face a bureaucratic educational system that holds him accountable for the attempted suicide of one of his students and that has no qualms to close down the high school. The director has woven together many visual elements including flashbacks, re-enactments and various editing and cinematic techniques to create a compelling film where doing the right thing in Henry’s case meets disappointment but not in the case of his students. It has all the elements of a classic feel good movie and it’s positive story line will delight audiences.
If you are a fan of teacher movies, you’ll love it. If you are a fan of Donnie Yen, you’ll love him in his touching performance of a caring teacher with a heart of gold and fists of steel. If you are a fan of Chinese films like me, you’ll love it for its style of film making and story telling. The film will not only appeal to families and younger audiences but to anyone really because of its positive story line. It’s great entertainment and I found it a joy to watch. Do see it for you won’t be disappointed.
WELL GO USA releases Big Brother on DVD/Blu-Ray May 21st