Young People [年輕人] (1972)
Starring David Chiang, Ti Lung, Chen Kuan-Tai, Agnes Chan Mei-Ling, Irene Chen Yi-Ling, Wu Ma, Chin Feng, Lo Dik, Wong Chung, Bolo Yeung, Sze-Ma Wah-Lung
Directed by Chang Cheh
Expectations: Very interested, but I don’t know what to expect.
Young People is a movie that I can see a lot of people hating, especially those who notice the combo of Chang Cheh directing Ti Lung, Chen Kuan-Tai and David Chiang in the lead roles and expect a heroic struggle of martial brotherhood. Young People is definitely not that, although oddly enough it is about brotherhood (or at least working together). Different doesn’t necessarily mean bad, but as an offbeat musical comedy from 1972, it’s pretty much exactly the type of movie that will put a lot of people off. For me, it brought huge smiles to my face throughout. There were a couple of groans, I can’t lie, but for the most part I smiled.
The story of Young People is quite loose and free-flowing in an effort to reflect the young people of its title. At a college in Hong Kong there are three clubs: the Music & Dance club, the Sports club and the Martial Arts club. David Chiang plays Hung Wai, the head of the Music club; Ti Lung plays Lam Tat, the captain of the sports club; and Chen Kuan-Tai plays Ho Tai, the leader of the martial arts club. Each student is like a star among their fellow club members, garnering respect and admiration, but the other groups do not return the favor. They tease one another and fight for ridiculous, petty reasons. Y’know… like young people do. So the “story” involves each of the three clubs competing in a tournament, only each club is unable to win on their own.
It’s a very simple structure, and the moral of the story could easily be told in a much more succinct and affecting film than we have here. But succinct storytelling is not the goal of Young People, it is to bring a levity to the screen that allows us to enjoy ourselves while also being taught a great lesson: that while we may be excellent at what we do, we can be even better if have great people by our side.
Your enjoyment of Young People will hinge on your enjoyment of four basic things: basketball, martial arts, super sugary song and dance covers, and go-karts. It also hinges on your enjoyment of these specific actors and the general Shaw flavor that all of their films have, but I’ll assume you definitely like these elements if you’re this far into the review. In any case, the three tournaments take up huge chunks of the film, so if you don’t enjoy them the film could be incredibly boring. I love basketball, so seeing Ti Lung, Bolo Yeung and the rest of the boys shootin’ hoops for Chang Cheh’s camera was a supreme joy. Chang Cheh shoots the game interestingly, too, with my favorite shot snap-zooming out from a medium shot of the game’s tip-off to a full-court vantage point high above the game. Chang also uses slow-motion and purposefully comedic fast-motion to keep the game from getting dull. I loved it, but I can’t fault anyone who thinks it’s a little too long.
The martial arts tournament (filmed on the same set constructed for Duel of Fists) and the go-kart race are filmed in a very similar manner to the basketball game, so however you felt about it will most likely carry over to these other events. The martial arts scenes are obviously within Chang’s wheelhouse, so they feel a lot more natural than something as foreign to a Chang Cheh movie as a go-kart race. But before you get to thinkin’ there’s some great martial arts buried under the thick, dated ’70s vibe, the comical fast motion returns throughout the fights to remind you that this is ultimately a comedy.
The other key to the puzzle of Young People is the character of Princess (Irene Chen Yi-Ling). At the film’s outset she is dating Ho Tai, but she is a fair-weather girlfriend, so she becomes Lam Tat’s sweetheart after he wins the basketball tournament. She even has a photo cut-out of herself on her wall, with space for the guy of the week. Princess’s character is largely just around for laughs, but she ultimately proves the point of the film. It is important to be loyal and true to those around you, otherwise you’ll be left alone. But a film as flamboyant and joyous as Young People can’t be that serious for too long, so even this moral point is muted in the name of entertainment.
And entertain it did, as Young People was a big success at the 1972 Hong Kong box office. It even beat out such martial arts classics as King Boxer and Hapkido. The reasoning is undoubtedly multilayered, but I feel a huge part of it relates to the cast. In Young People the proven “Iron Triangle” of Chang Cheh, Ti Lung and David Chiang were strengthened even further by Chen Kuan-Tai (who was just coming off of the massive hit The Boxer from Shantung) and relative newcomer, HK pop star Agnes Chan Mei-Ling. Chan burst onto the scene one year earlier with her album Will the Circle Game be Unbroken, and in Young People she performs such songs as Joni Mitchell’s Circle Game, Carole King’s You’ve Got a Friend and a song that is a knock-off version of Burt Bacharach’s What the World Needs Now Is Love with slightly altered lyrics and a completely different melody. You’ve Got a Friend is especially interesting here, as — according to Wikipedia — the song is known as the most covered song in the entire Hong Kong pop music industry. Judging from the available information I could find, this seems to have all stemmed from Agnes Chan’s version. Together these five people formed into something of an “Iron Pentagon,” making this atypical Chang Cheh film a success at the time of release.
Young People is definitely a dated film that will cause most people to laugh at it and mock it, but I loved it. It is a very effective film at providing entertainment, laughs and a lot of good feelings! And I feel like I learned something, too, or at least had a very basic moral lesson reinforced. Your mileage may vary, but I loved Young People.
Next up in this chronological jaunt through the Shaw Brothers Martial Arts catalog is the epic film The Fourteen Amazons from director Cheng Kang! See ya then!