‘A Choo’ Melds the World of Romance and Superheroes Into an Action-Packed Crowd-pleaser
Growing up together in an orphanage, EJ falls in love with Hsin-hsin and whenever he miser her, she will sneeze. His feelings for her grow stronger as they grow older. Hoping to win her love, he trains to become a boxer. However, before he could confess his feelings to her, she falls in love with a computer engineer, who looks geeky but is actually a famous superhero. One day, when Hsin-hsin gets kidnapped, EJ must use his fighting skills to save her.
Directors: Kevin Ko, Peter Tsi
Cast: Ariel Lin, Kai Ko, Zhang Xiao Long, Darren Wang, Vanness Wu, Louis Koo
Runtime: 102 minutes
Initially planned for a 2014 released, A Choo 打喷嚏 looked to capitalise on Kai Ko’s rising popularity following his award-winning performance in You Are the Apple of My Eye 那些年，我們一起追的女孩. Unfortunately, a high-profile drug bust involving the Taiwanese sweetheart would indefinitely relegate the film on the shelf – until now.
With You Are The Apple of My Eye’s writer and director Giddens Ko on writing and producing duty, the film looks to recreate the 2011 hit’s magic. However, despite its interesting twists to the formula and an all-star cast, A Choo feels sorely underdeveloped, coupled with a perspective of love that might be too juvenile for some. Still, Ko’s powerful leading performance and the fascinating world the film constructs makes A Choo a strong crowd-pleaser that boldly yearns to be so much more.
Set in a world with superpowered beings, superhero Flash’s (Louis Koo) botched attempt at saving the day accidentally sets off a massive explosion that leaves thousands of children orphaned. This event brings together two orphans EJ (Kai Ko) and Hsin-Hsin (Ariel Lin), with the former soon developing an infatuation for the latter.
Driven by Hsin-hsin’s off-hand remark that she prefers “brave men”, EJ looks to prove himself by competing as a mixed martial arts fighter. Where EJ’s ordinary world and the wider superhero world intersect is with him finding out that Hsin-hsin is dating the city’s superhero, Sonic (Zhang Xiao Long). This sets the stage for a view of romance that is undeniably naive.
There are hints that their feelings for emotions are mutual, but they are constructed in a way that is sheepishly boyish.
The film’s title (and coincidentally also a correct description of me) comes from Hsin-Hsin’s tendency to sneeze whenever she thinks of EJ and vice versa, perhaps implying that both are intrinsically fated to be with each other. After training with the disgraced superhero Flash, EJ develops a congenital insensitivity to pain, gradually gaining him the reputation in the ring as a fighter that refuses to stay down.
In other words, EJ quite literally fights for Hsin-Hsin’s love, while finding himself helplessly competing with another man who is miles above his league. I kept waiting for a twist, feeling like this is basically how a boy would view romance. Especially with superheroes and the works; the film is practically a chick-flick for boys. Yet, the film never flinches from this view, ballooning and playing it out all the way to its cheesy yet potentially tear-jerking conclusion.
It’s ultimately a make-or-break perspective that might be too shallow for some – myself included. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed how it uses and twists fantastical elements – as unsubtle as they are – into depicting childish yet once painfully relatable perspectives about love.
What carries the film is Ko’s leading performance. While the chemistry he shares with co-star Ariel Lin is lukewarm at best, his tenacity and despair-filled emotions clearly shows that he is in love with someone. He is an easy lead to cheer on, helped by his everyday physique and excellent makeup work selling his underdog status as he constantly gets beat up in and out of the ring.
However, while there is clear finesse in building a world that facilitates the central romance, A Choo unfortunately feels undercooked throughout. EJ’s best friend, Chien-han (Darren Wang), sorely lacked any character development besides having a similar crush with Hsin-hsin. Vanness Wu’s performance is delightfully hammy as the Saturday morning cartoon villain Dr Cube but his appearances are kept to a minimum despite being the picture’s overarching antagonist.
The film’s world with its minimal attention to superheroes is interesting and craves development, with storytelling that felt like there was too much left on the cutting room floor. Perhaps its story could have worked better as a series instead.
The film’s high points comes with its slew of excellently shot in-ring fights pitting EJ and a cast of intimidating threats. Packed with a healthy dose of slow motion and impactful sound design, these scenes are predictable but thrilling regardless. Beyond the ring, the superpowered fights do show its age but are serviceable and are are kept to a minimum.
The general aesthetic, with its bright colours and uniform cityscapes, feels ripped out of a video game, further doubling down on its appeal to a younger crowd. There are interesting choices of shots to highlight both the action and the romance, but the film does feel rather dated with its over-reliance on dutch angles to draw mystique and indiscernible lightning-fast cuts for its action scenes.
A Choo is an insightful look into the psyche of teenage boys; the film does an excellent job of being a power fantasy that echoes their sentiments and angst about love. There are parts of its construction that feel severely wanting but never too lacking to tune out and dismiss its premise entirely, mostly thanks to Ko’s clear investment in the script.
While not as present in big-budget Hollywood productions, the film follows a trope that is well-traversed in Asian media (particularly in anime) which should make A Choo familiar and welcoming for mass audiences in the region.
A Choo is now showing in cinemas. Do remember to stay safe, adhere to safe-distancing measures and practice good personal hygiene while you are out!
In the meantime, catch the film’s trailer below:
– ‘The Maid’ Proves the Genius of Thai Horror Despite Its Slowly Creeping Start
– ‘Extracurricular’ Exceptionally Subverts Expectations of High-School Dramas, Presenting a Twisted and Dark Reality in Its Place
– Lighthearted and Hopeful, ‘Workers’ Details the Antics of a Trio Determined to Get Rich Quick