My Schoolmate The Barbarian

My Schoolmate The Barbarian (2001)
Tai Seng Video Marketing
Cast: Nicholas Tse, Stephen Fung
Extras: Commentary Track, Trailers

Starring the rising martial arts talent Nicholas Tse along with Stephen Fung, "My Schoolmate The Barbarian" is a new generation martial arts film filled with marvelous stunts by veteran stunt director Ching Siu Tung. Masterfully and hypnotically directed by Wong Jing, the film is based on a Japanese comic book series and slightly reminded me of what I *thought* "Fight Club" would be like – judging from the trailer at the time, before I actually saw it, that is. Ultimately, "My Schoolmate The Barbarian" turns out to be much more than it seems on the surface and once again we have here a Hong Kong film that seems to meddle with cliché, yet doesn’t. A film that appears formulaic, yet isn’t.

To discourage gangster behavior, a college secretly allows students to do fist fights after hours. That way they can settle their conflicts and work out their energies. Rock (Nicholas Tse) is the undisputed champion of these fights who suddenly decides to no longer fight. But he is eventually forced to come back and fight Mantis, a newcomer with remarkable skills.

Nicholas Tse is perfectly cast as Rock. He conveys emotion and the roughness it takes to play such a character. His furious martial arts add to the danger slumbering within him, and makes every one of his fight scenes a formidable celebration of the arts. Stephen Fung also makes a great showing once again in this first collaboration of Tse and Fung since "Gen-X Cops." The two simply make a blistering team on the screen.

Director Wong Jing is firing away in this movie at a blazing speed and it should be evident to everyone from the opening sequence alone that this film is not like other Hong Kong martial arts films. Through its roots in Japanese Manga, the film shows us a cold and harsh urban setting where the only color comes from the graffiti sprayed on seemingly every wall. The look and feel, the camera angles and moves are all highly reminiscent of these Japanese comic books and combined with the effective use of an under-cranked camera these shots alone show the remarkable artistic vision behind the entire film.

The movie is presented in a non-<$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> transfer on this DVD in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. During the opening credits the film exhibits quite a bit of speckles but they are mostly gone as soon as the actual movie begins. A tad of grain is evident in the film in selected shot but it is never getting distracting and overall, "My Schoolmate The Barbarian" features a good transfer. The image is a bit soft but given the movie’s relatively young age, it is generally well-defined. Colors are a bit on the bland side in this film and they are sadly also inconsistent. Light wavering is evident in various shots indicating that the transfer was taken from a slightly worn print – which also explains some of the registration problems. Contrast is good throughout and the transfer boasts wonderfully deep blacks that give the film visual depth and add to the overall atmosphere. The compression is good and free of distracting compression artifacts.

On the audio side the movie presents itself as very modern. The main track is a Cantonese <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> track that is aggressive and energetic. It is complemented by a <$DTS,DTS> track that is equally dynamic. Both tracks are very clean and manage to capture both the impressive dynamic range of the audio, as well as the wide sound field with aggressive surround usage without any problems. The film boasts a very atmospheric score that uses a remarkably traditional instrumentation, contrasting the modern-day urban setting to good effect. Dialogues are very clear and are never drowned out. Alternatively a <$DS,Dolby surround> track n Mandarin is also supplied on the disc as well as a <$commentary,commentary track> featuring Hong Kong film expert and Tai Seng regular, Ric Meyers, who is getting noticeably more comfortable and relaxed with his commentaries. Of course, Frank Djeng, "the Tai Seng guy" is also co-hosting the track once again. Together they relate such a wealth of information and details that you should definitely go in and check it out.

Sadly no notable extras can be found on the release. Trailers of this and two other films are the only supplement found on the release.

"My Schoolmate The Barbarian" is a remarkable film on many levels boasting staggering stunt work, unusual visuals in a dark urban setting, a captivating story and so much more. It is definitely a film martial arts fans should check out, but it is also a film that should clearly appeal to the many fans of today’s martial arts infused Hollywood movies. Just don’t let yourself get distracted by the strange title of the film.