Inferior Student Qiao Xi
China, 2019, colour/b&w, 2.35:1, 104 mins.
Director: Li Kelong 李克龙.
High-school comedy centred on a group of dunce BFFs treads familiar ground but is fun fluff.
Foshan city, Guangdong province, southern China, autumn 2017. The daughter of two small-restaurant owners (Lai Xi, Hei Mei), 17-year-old Qiao Xi (Lin Xinyi) ranks 46th out of 50 in the dunce’s class at Haizhen Senior High. Unconcerned by her idiocy, she leads a tight-knit gang of equally undistinguished BFFs – Zhou Tiantian (Liao Weiwei), Xiaomei (Fang Qi) and Lv Xiaojing (Zhang Yao). When the class’ exasperated teacher, Zhang (Li Xiao), goes on maternity leave, her replacement is a young male teacher, Sun Diyi (Li Libei), on his first job. Despite his shy demeanour, Sun Diyi has researched every student in the class and is not put off by the girls’ attitude. When he tries to befriend them out of school hours, they’re suspicious of his motives. (Qiao Xi still remembers how teacher Zhang betrayed her confidence when a fellow male student wrote her a love letter.) Sun Diyi finally wins their trust by accepting that part of the girls’ lack of interest in studying is due to the teachers. In Qiao Xi’s case, he discovers the main fault is her business-obsessed mother, who’s always discouraged her daughter from reading and learning in her spare time. He tells Qiao Xi that she’s intelligent and should set an example to her friends to work hard to get into university. All four start swotting, and then the school is selected to send a pupil to a nationwide competition with an RMB200,000 prize plus a paid family holiday in Europe. Sun Diyi urges Qiao Xi to take part in the school’s selection contest but Qiao Xi is not interested. However, when goodie-goodie top student Qu Lanlan (Yang Lixiao) announces she’s sure to win the school’s nomination, Qiao Xi accepts the challenge.
Young newcomer Lin Xinyi 林欣宜, 20, has the title role in high-school fluff Inferior Student Qiao Xi 差等生乔曦 but it’s more experienced, third-billed actress Liao Weiwei 廖蔚蔚, 30, who steals the comic honours amid the chorus of her three BFFs-cum-fellow dunces. Treading very familiar ground, plus the message that parents and teachers should both do more to encourage studying, Qiao Xi is a technically slick piece of entertainment by Shandong-born writer-director-actor Li Kelong 李克龙, 39, who’s directed over two dozen features (theatrical, TV, online) in the past decade, in almost every genre. His prolific output has always been solid and sometimes more (horror Flower’s Curse 花咒, 2014, comedy Super Four S4侠降魔记, 2018), though he has yet to achieve any box-office breakthrough. Despite its merits, Qiao Xi suffered the same fate.
Centred on four under-achieving pupils – officially called chàdĕngshēng 差等生, as per the film’s title – who form a tight-knit group led by Qiao Xi, the episodic plot features the usual antics at school interspersed by scenes of the teenager’s home life, where her parents are more interested in running their small restaurant and her baby sister, who harbours a singing talent, is similarly ignored. Smooth cutting, a lively mickey-mouse score by Yan Fei 闫飞 and deliberately cartoony playing in some sequences keep the film bouncing along during the first half, with Lin strong as the bolshie Qiao Xi but the comedy stolen by Li’s favourite actress Liao (in her best performance since Flower’s Curse) with big goofy glasses and some of the best lines. Standup comic Bai Kainan 白凯南 has his moments as the head teacher she’s always frustrating, while regular Li colleague, comedian Lai Xi 来喜, pops up as the girl’s dad, though he’s overshadowed by TV’s Hei Mei 黑妹 as her bossy mother. Chemistry between all four girls in the Gang of Dunces is strong.
The film loses some bounce in its mid-section, and a side drama over the parents not turning up in time for the younger sister’s school concert is not really necessary. But once the girls switch horses, and a scholastic competition is hawled in for a climax, the movie recovers its opening form. Qiao Xi is only ever a blow-and-throw time-waster but good fun nevertheless. Actress Yang Zitong 杨紫彤, who played the tight-lipped maid in Flower’s Curse, gets a co-writing credit.
Produced by Da Song Ru Ge Pictures (Beijing) (CN), Huishi Culture Communication (Shanghai) (CN), Moon Movies (CN). Produced by Da Song Ru Ge Pictures (Beijing) (CN).
Associate direction: Li Dandong. Script: Li Kelong, Yang Zitong, Liu Wei. Photography: Cao Yanliang, Yang Kai. Editing: Feng Qi. Music: Yan Fei. Art direction: Zhang Shichao. Styling: Xiao Hua. Sound: Zhang Yuzhu. Executive direction: Zhang Jiankang.
Cast: Lin Xinyi (Qiao Xi), Li Libei (Sun Diyi), Liao Weiwei (Zhou Tiantian/Xiaohulu), Bai Kainan (Cao, head teacher), Yang Lixiao (Qu Lanlan, class head), Lai Xi (Qiao Xi’s father), Hei Mei (Liu Xiaohong, Qiao Xi’s mother), Zhang Wan’er (Qiao Yang, Qiao Xi’s younger sister), Zhang Yao (Lv Xiaojing), Fang Qi (Xiaomei), Na Wei (headmaster), Li Xiao (Zhang, teacher), Yu Shuxian (Tian, teacher), Li Bao (head examiner).
Release: China, 20 Jan 2019.