Chu Yen-ping’s (朱延平) latest offering, My Geeky Nerdy Buddies (大宅們), is, like much of his oeuvre over of the past decade, the cinematic equivalent of a low-end tour group: long on pointless banter, short on substance.
A maker of blockbusters in the 1980s, Chu gradually fell out of favor with local audiences in the 1990s. The arrival of the new millennium saw the old-time slapstick comedy whiz gain new admirers across the Taiwan Strait when his low-budget One Stone & Two Birds (一石二鳥, 2004), virtually ignored in Taiwan, did relatively well in China.
In the decade that followed, Chu, backed by government film subsidies, made a string of movies with the Chinese market in mind. Among them, The Treasure Hunter (刺陵, 2010) is an utterly vacuous and disastrous adventure/kung-fu flick with a cast led by Jay Chou (周杰倫) and Lin Chi-ling (林志玲).
Just Call Me Nobody (大笑江湖, 2011) featured celebrated Chinese comedian Xiao Shenyang (小沈陽), but was filled with embarrassingly dated jokes. Astoundingly, it grossed nearly NT$800 million (US$26.7 million) in China.
The box office takings in Taiwan amounted to NT$1.4 million.
With his latest college comedy, My Geeky Nerdy Buddies, Chu’s signature sense of humor is as stale as ever — which is probably why he called in Chiu Li-kwan (邱?寬), who directed the local hit David Loman (大尾鱸鰻) last year, as producer and co-writer.
Whatever the reason, it didn’t help. It’s difficult to imagine a plot more tedious.
A group of zhainan (宅男) — nerdy guys immersed in comics, cartoons, computers and online games, who rarely leave their bedrooms — spend much of their college life fantasizing about sexy girls who only date handsome and rich men. One zhainan, A-zhai, played by Mando-pop idol Jam Hsiao (蕭敬騰), falls for Ling ( played by Chinese actress Maggie Jiang, 江疏影), who is considered the most beautiful girl on campus and the trophy girlfriend of a wealthy dandy.
My Geeky Nerdy Buddies 大宅們
DIRECTED BY: Chu Yen-ping (朱延平)
STARRING: Jam Hsiao (蕭敬騰) as A-zhai, Maggie Jiang (江疏影) as Ling
LANGUAGE: in Mandarin with Chinese and English subtitles
RUNNING TIME: 98 MINUTES
TAIWAN RELEASE: TODAY
A-zhai wins Ling’s affection little by little, as they exchange in cloying flirtation across various tourist attractions in the capital, ranging from Breeze Center (微風廣場) to Taipei 101 (台北101).
As is suggested by its Chinese title, is homophonous with the title of the popular Chinese television drama The Grand Mansion Gate (大宅門), the film relies heavily on ideas and sentiments familiar to Chinese viewers. Though there is nothing inherently wrong in making a 90-minute work of entertainment aimed at the much-coveted Chinese market, Chu’s flagrant disregard of a coherent story and not even a mediocre attempt at character development is sometimes mind-boggling.
Equally problematic is the director’s sense of humor: You might have gotten away with a joke about a physically unattractive, chubby girl being ridiculed 30 years ago, but the same scenario is simply offensive to a contemporary audience.
Some movies are so bad, they are actually good. Rest assured, My Geeky Nerdy Buddies is not that kind of movie.