Nothing really gels together in Kevin Ko and Peter Tsi’s massively overstuffed genre clusterfuck.
“Why are you still here? Go get hit by a car”.
I reckon this week I’ll have something of a difficult time talking about the plot of A Choo, Netflix’s latest Chinese cinematic offering. It’s a movie that seems to be a love story between two orphans, but one that also opens on a comic book narrative that describes “government scientists” discovering “a new element: the hyper matrix”, which the villainous Doctor Cube tries to steal, only to be stopped by superhero Flash. However, the rescue goes wrong and Cube fuses with part of the matrix, and causes a huge explosion, killing hundreds.
Anyway, there’s an orphanage and our three main characters hail from it. They are Wang Yi-chih (Kai Ko), Yeh Chien-han (Zhang Xiaolong) and the girl of their dreams Hsin-hsin (Ariel Lin). When Hsin-hsin leaves for college, the other two promise to get good jobs and get her to fall in love with … one of them? Both? They never make it clear. However, when they do go out into the city bank robbers appear out of nowhere, and Hsin-hsin is saved by another superhero called Sonic (Vanness Wu). Soon Hsin-hsin is dating Sonic and so Yi-chih decides to become a boxer to impress her while Chien-han attends the police academy. But of course Yi-chih isn’t a good fighter, and so he must enlist the help of Flash (Louis Koo), now disgraced and in exile after failing to save that one city block a decade back.
Fuck me what a jumbled mess of a plot. I don’t even think I’ve covered all of it, but it’s just so much and it’s all equally hodgepodge and mad. I honestly can’t tell what genre this belongs in. There’s romance, comedy, drama, action, sports, sci fi and superhero antics and none of it meshes together at all. The A Choo experience is akin to watching P.S. I Love You on TV but occasionally switching to the 2003 Daredevil with each ad break. A romantic drama about superheroes is a great idea. An Incredibles spin off where Elastigirl and Mr Incredible try to date in a world where they’re always needed to save the day, or even one like this where a non-powered guy tries to woo a woman who’s always off saving the world can be great ideas, but they need to find a through-line and stick with it. Making 40% of your movie Rocky just doesn’t make any sense.
It’s such a confused movie that its poster, seemingly in a desperate attempt to find a scene – any scene – that made sense, decided to showcase one random clip at the beginning of the movie where Hsin-hsin cuts Yi-chih’s hair. You know, the absolute crux of this superhero sports romantic comedy. But then again, I’d have a hard time designing something that encapsulated what this film was about. The issue really isn’t about the fact that it changes genres with every act break, but rather this problem is a symptom of the larger issue that A Choo simply doesn’t know what it wants to be and as a result we get something that feels like it was improvised from a series of suggestions curated by an overly ambitious writer’s room.
It takes 76 minutes for Dr Cube to make a proper appearance in the movie. That’s an unfathomably long amount of time. The Champ that Yi-chih has to fight gets more screentime and that guy doesn’t even have a name. We don’t even know what Dr Cube’s powers are. At least we knew that The Champ could a) punch and b) punch very hard. Dr Cube has these ill-defined crystal powers and transforms into something that looks like a statue made from aluminium foil. “You should blame this world”, he shrieks as his only piece of motivation. It’s such a frustrating watch, and that’s not even getting into how shoddily-developed the main characters are.
We know that Yi-chih has an extremely unattractive inferiority complex and feels like he needs to compete with Sonic for Hsin-hsin’s affection. That’s something and seems real enough – and during the majority of the film they have really good chemistry and are fairly enjoyable to see. But his third-act breakup with her seems out of nowhere, as is Yeh’s entire presence throughout. We didn’t really need another guy sort-of slobbering over her, really. Flash seems like a promising character, with hints of sequel trilogy Luke Skywalker, but ends up really one note and un-fun to watch. And that’s the problem: once A Choo seems to lock onto something good and solid enough to base a film on, it quickly moves on to something else. A Choo could be considered a superhero film because it does a fine job of re-enacting to the audience the whiplash Gwen Stacey felt at the end of The Amazing Spiderman 2.
That it’s based on a book is baffling to me, and I can only imagine that all of these disparate themes and mismatched genres somehow come together in a neater fashion. A Choo is a confusing mess that’s about so many things it ends up being about absolutely nothing. It’s a collection of average-to-decent movies jammed together in an omnibus of baffling nonsense. It didn’t need to open with adult Yi-chih getting pummelled. It didn’t need the cheesy comic book intro. It sure as hell didn’t need to waste Louis Koo. Add in some of the most nauseating and shaky action cinematography in recent years, awful PS3-era CGI and completely non-existent worldbuilding (are there more superheroes? Just the two?) and it’s just so tiresome and almost not worth hanging around to find out why in the actual hell the movie is even called A Choo to begin with. Which, by the way, is left unanswered. They couldn’t even give the wrestler Golden Eagle an appropriately-coloured leotard.
Verdict: Filled with clichés from all across the spectrum of storytelling, A Choo tries to be many things and fails at every single attempt.
Overall entertainment: 4/10 for sheer effort
Violence: A surprisingly tame 4/10
Sex: None. Outrageous.
Notes: I wrote so many notes for this review. There was so much to talk about. Not all of it made it in.
Louis Koo: I’d like to see him play Saitama in a One Punch Man adaptation.
Title: How does Hsin-hsin’s sneezing play into any of this? Answer me, movie!
Training: Learning to take a punch doesn’t mean you can suddenly be flung dozens of storeys into the air and survive, but whatever.
Fate: Just describing how one event led to another isn’t fate, Yu-chih, it’s basic screenwriting.
Also can someone teach Yi-chih how to punch properly? These big, goofy anime swings wouldn’t hit anything.
A Choo (2020)
Director: Peter Tsi, Kevin Ko
Writer: Giddens Ko
Kai Ko – Wang Yi-chih
Ariel Lin – Hsin-hsin
Zhang Xiaolong – Yeh Chien-han
Louis Koo – Flash
Vanness Wu – Sonic