Hi guys, I am sorry for this last minute and simple write up of Chen Yu-hsun’s Tropical Fish. Please kindly pardon my style or bad grammar. I hope the reviews for Tropical Fish has been good so fast.
Let me start with an introduction to the director Chen Yu-Hsun. Chen started off as a TV director, and despite recieving critical acclaim for his debut film, Tropical Fish. He had only directed 2 other film so far, which are Love Go Go and one part of Juliets. In Chen’s film, he is always playing with the idea of the protagonist prefering to live in dream world then his own reality. Throughout the movie, A-chiang(the protagonist) daydreams become entangled with reality, creating surreal humour. We see A-chiang (dreaming of himself as King Saloman) accidentally kidnapped by two gangsters (representing the Golden Shark) as a result of his attempt to rescue a little boy, Dao-nan, whom the gangsters meant to kidnap in the first place. Unfortunately, though, Dao-nan’s stepfather does not want him back, so A-chiang becomes the kidnappers, only potential source of ransom money.
In Tropical Fish, Chen brilliantly mix the idea of a kidnapping case he heard then and the loop holes in Taiwanese educational system. Before the recent reform of the Taiwanese educational system, the life and death of students in their final year are dependent on the final exam, all of them hoping to go to a public high school. But usually only one-third of them pass and those who do face three years of study to prepare for the next Joint Entrance Examination, this time, to win admission to a university. For those who fail, many of them will retake or study in the night school(which is cheaper) like what Ah Si’r of A Bright Summer Day did .As a result, this culture of testing dominates the hope and future of each student.
Below are some of the paragraph I extracted from Azrael Bigler review
“The first part of the film takes place in Taizhung, an area of Taiwan in which there were a lot of kidnappings during the 1990’s. And one such kidnapping is at the heart of Tropical Fish. A seven-year-old boy that Zhi-qiang plays video games with is kidnapped, and Zhi-qiang is convinced that the two creepy men he saw buying food for him the previous day are the culprits. Inspired by his very active imagination and video games in which he gets to play the hero, he decides to try to rescue the boy himself. As a result of his efforts, he is taken hostage as well. The second half of the film takes place in Dongshi, an area in southern Taiwan that floods frequently. There, Ah-Ching, one of the kidnappers (the other has died), struggles with the question of what to do with the two boys now that everything has gone wrong. A kind man who just happened to get involved with the wrong person, he informs his family of the situation and together they try to decide what to do. They do not appear to be dangerous, yet in truth, they could use some money. Their home is flooded, and they are desperate to come up with enough money to send the youngest sibling to school. From news reports, they learn that Zhi-qiang is supposed to take his exam within two weeks, and strangely that fact changes everything. Time is of the essence, and Zhi-qiang simply must be returned quickly. The million dollar question, of course, is how.
Tropical Fish is one of those rare films that does everything right. Extremely funny and filled with memorable and realistic characters, the film will likely make viewers reflect upon social and political issues. Viewers may at first find it odd that a father talks so much about his son taking a test when his very survival is in question, yet upon reflection, this act seems perfectly natural, even touching. The events in the film also serve as an education for Zhi-qiang, as a way of teaching him what is truly important in life. Towards the end of the film, Zhi-qiang reads a letter from a young woman named Ah-Juan which is both heartbreaking and inspirational. I watched the scene twice, and each time it got to me. Watch Zhi-qiang’s expression in the scene. It’s clear that he’s gotten the message."
One interesting trivia to note is that the composer of this film is Wu Bai, one of the most famous rock star in Chinese Entertainment industry. This film were also awarded 1995 Golden Horse Film Award for Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress for Wen Ying who played the money greedy aunt. In the same year, Chen lost Best Director to Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Good Men,Good Women and Best Film to Ann Hui’s Summer Snow. Both were critically acclaimed movie as well, making 1995 Golden Horse Film Award a memorable one to date. Once again I apologise for not making an effort to write a thorough review for Tropical Fish.
Thanks for the colourful informative intro YS. Here’s what I said on the other thread about Tropical Fish:
What a zany piece of misadventure this was. It had at its core something profound and the ending made me cry but it didn’t really know what it wanted to be and felt overly stuffed with so much try hard humour …though I did laugh. Very deliberate mocking of the frantic preoccupation with education in that culture. Gorgeous colours! And some very peaceful little interludes here and there too.
I enjoyed it more as I thought about it later as sometimes happens, little snippets coming back tomake me smile like the turnabout of the quite vicious school teacher when on tv. the kids munching iceblocks, their head sticking up out of boxes and their “sand fun” :) I did enjoy the humour and whimsy but thought it took it further than it needed to, thus diluting the other more serious heartfelt and social commentary aspects. Am just about to start Clay Bird for comparison and voting.
I enjoyed this film. It’s sad that comedies often get the short end of the stick. I will be surprised if this wins the next match.
I liked this film quite a bit as well. I’m glad the story was handled in the way that it was. The subject could have been dealt with in a very serious tone, sometimes it was showing the parents reactions to what was going on, but was always lightened up by what was going on with the kids and the kidnappers. That back and forth didn’t allow the picture to become to heavy handed or too comedic. And I loved the way everything ended up.
Thanks for the intro YS. I actually understand now why the father was so concerned about the son taking his exam and not his general safety. This was one of my gripes with the film. Still I think the humour was forced and I really can’t say I laughed out loud once. So for me as a comedy it failed. The music was awful. Chinese 80’s rock really isn’t my cup of tea. A few Hou films have been spoilt by the same kind of soundtrack. I understand that pop stars are huge in that part of the world and a soundtrack by them can improve the chances of a film’s success, but it seems detrimental to the artistic aspirations of the film. The animation scenes were terrible. The first sequence was vomit inducing.
It did improve though. What was good about this film? Well I enjoyed the beach scene immensely which was funny, but subtle and had some great imagery which was lacking in the rest of the film.The beach scenes actually reminded me of Takeshi Kitano’s films such as Sonatine. I liked Auntie who had a few great one liners. My favourite being “I’ll turn your willie into a burger….” The humour throughout though was too tame and for the most part was hammy, forced and just plain unfunny.
Since we have been talking about sterotypes of children; one of the most offensive depictions of a child is the fat boy with glasses, socially inept and used for comic effect. Overweight children in cinema are usually portrayed like this and I actually find it rather disturbing that we can view children in this light.
Tropical Fish is a film which tries too hard and attempts to cover too many bases. The fantasy theme ultimately lets the film down and I feel the director would have been more successful had he used more subtle brushstrokes too paint his canvas.
It’s sad that comedies often get the short end of the stick. I will be surprised if this wins the next match.
I’m voting for it!
Thanks for the intro YS. Good write up. I enjoyed reading it, and I enjoyed the film as well.
Overweight children in cinema are usually portrayed like this and I actually find it rather disturbing that we can view children in this light.
I know what you are saying. Still I can’t help but crack up even thinking about the kid in Bad Santa!