FILM REVIEW: The Pool Man 泳漾3 min readReading Time: 2 minutes
An overweight boy with self esteem issues meets a washed up national swimmer at a swimming pool. The boy longs for love and affection from his crush, while the swimmer struggles to retain his past glory. Together, they embark on a journey to inspire each other in hopes of a better life.
Director: Kaidi Zhan
Cast: Hsiao-Kuo Chia, Hung-Po Wei
Runtime: 32 min
Review by Leon Lau
It’s easier to sink into a corner, watch from the sidelines, and give up. That’s how The Pool Man (2014) opens, as our overweight protagonist Tseng Yung-Jun (Hung-Po Wei) hides in the corner of a swimming pool, and watches his crush from a distance. Unbeknownst to him, a washed up national swimmer, Ada (Hsiao-Kuo Chia) sees him as a chance for redemption.
At its heart, The Pool Man is an affectionately-told story of two losers that is more inspirational than it has any right to be. Tseng Yung-Jun is a young man wants nothing more than to impress his crush, whereas Ada is a middle aged man desperate for some meaning in his life since his glory days are long gone. Ada takes on a bet that he can train Yung-Jun to swim, or he will quit his job. What ensues is an underdog story as the two team up in hopes of working towards a better life.
Actors Hung-Po Wei and Hsiao-Kuo Chia share some fantastic on-screen chemistry, and as their characters go on silly adventures like sneaking into the girls’ locker room to deliver a gift, we grow attached to these lovable losers. They are a classic mismatched-couple, and Hung-Po Wei relishes the awkwardness of a playing a shy overweight man opposite his grumpy mentor, which makes for some hilarious scenes. Both actors also deliver some surprisingly emotional moments, and one long camera take during a heated argument was particularly effective.
It does take some thematic inspiration from classic movies like Rocky (1976), but removes the Hollywood glamour factor entirely in favour of a more slice-of-life drama. You won’t see the typical father-son relationship or any dudes with toned abs here. Instead, expect copious amounts of man boobs and gut bellies to be thrown at the screen. It makes for some fun physical humour, and also adds to the film’s realism.
But for all the fun director Kaidi Zhan pokes at his characters, it’s also a surprisingly moving journey. The Pool Man may primarily be a comedy, but Kaidi Zhan never forgets to treat his characters like human beings. Both lead actors lend a great deal of weight and heart to their performances, and actually feel like world weary people who have hit rock bottom for too long. You can’t help but root for the both of them as if they were your own friends.
This all leads to a finale that, without spoiling anything, feels earned and does not betray the low-key tone that the film has throughout. The Pool Man is a thoroughly engaging and brisk comedy that has something genuine to say about not giving up in life.