Caricatures in Asian movies? Just comedies? (boxed The Host spoilers)

I will admit at the start that I’ve seen very few films from Asia and that I may be assuming a trend that’s not really there. It could also be just bad translation and voice actors that make it more noticeable.

It seems to me that the comedic movies I have seen imported from Asia suffer from an alarming lack of subtlety.

I watched The Host last night, and ended up turning it off partway through because it was so frustratingly stupid. (For reference, the other two movies I’ve noticed this in were Stephen Chow’s Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle)

Every character trait is completely overacted. If a character is stupid, he is portrayed as a mouth-breathing simian barely able to rub two neurons together. If a character is authoritarian, he is constantly barking orders, immune to reason. There’s a whiner, who does nothing but complain, and a self-important loser (who also does nothing but complain, but about his time being so important).

Characters in authority tend to berate and disregard others to a comical degree. Not just “Do it because I told you so”, but “You are so stupid to even present an opinion, here are seventeen absurd reasons why you are a waste of humanity, and if you don’t do it we’ll have your family killed”. I can’t tell if the overly obsequious response they get is supposed to be humorous, but it strikes me as pathetic.

I have a feeling that some of this is due to misunderstanding the culture. But the plot seems hamhanded and hackneyed in a way that even of the stupidest American comedies manage to avoid.

Minor spoilers for The Host

[spoiler]We have to have the family go off on their own and be heroes, so when the little girl calls the useless father, a piggish cop refuses to believe him. He refuses to trace the call, because that’s so expensive (this is while they’re quarantining hundreds of people and mobilizing major portions of the military to fight the monster). He claims that it was all just fabricated. The whole time, useless father is holding the phone, but neither of them bothers to look at the list of calls received.

A few minutes later, they infiltrate the military blockade through the brilliant tactic of driving a chemical truck up to the Most Informationally-Unsecured guard in the World, who asks leading questions like “I can see by your truck that you must be a decon crew, so they must have told you that to enter, you have to tell me the password ‘fucking moron’ and continue down the road to the left, where the monster is?”[/spoiler]There are plenty more. Is this just horrendously bad writing, or am I missing something?

Bad writing or missing something, those are the two choices? Maybe you just don’t like that type of comedy. I love that stuff (AND I can appreciate subtle comedies). Just because the comedy comes from being over-the-top doesn’t mean it’s easy to execute effectively. And you’re talking specifically about Hong Kong movies.

I haven’t seen The Host, so I don’t know about that, but the Stephen Cho comedies you mentioned are supposed to be farces, and that simplistic, over-the-top characterization is part and parcel of the genre. There is not a lot of subtle characterization in a Marx Brothers movie, for example.

As to why farce seems so common in Asian comedies, that’s probably because subtle humor doesn’t translate very well, particularly when the language barrier is as thick as it is between Chinese and English. A joke revolving around the history of a particular Chinese province is not going to translate well to an audience not familiar with Chinese history. Doubly so, if the joke involves any world play at all. On the other hand, a guy slipping on a bannana peel and falling down a flight of stairs is pretty universal. So, the latter type of movie is more likely to be peddled in Western markets than the former.

The Host is from South Korea, I think.

For what it’s worth, I enjoyed both Stephen Chow movies. I was mostly annoyed by The Host, and it reminded me that I’d seen similar things in those. And I tend to like farces. On further thought, I think it’s the whineyness that’s getting to me.

True, but the movies being peddled to the west are generally also the ones that are being heavily hyped in the home markets too.

I completely agree with walrus WRT Stephen Chow. I grew up watching classic Stephen Chow movies, the man is very much a part of the Chinese social fabric (in the entire Chinese diaspora) for my generation - In the same way that Police Academy, Beverly Hills Cop and Die Hard are part of the social fabric of those who grew up in 1980s USA. It means something when I say that the current crop of Stephen Chow movies bear almost NO resemblance to the ones that I fondly remember. The old Chow movies DID in fact make obscure references to Chinese history, and more often than not managed to tie it in with contemporary Chinese culture to excellent effect. It’s a pity, because as you say, these did not generally translate well, and I cannot recommend them to viewers who do not speak Chinese and are familiar with the culture.

I really don’t know where the new crop is going, and it’s not just Stephen Chow, but the genre of Martial Arts movies as well, especially the batch coming from the Mainland. It all seems to be a confused mishmash of lame attempts at apeing Western Genres, horrific and cheesy CGI that is present for absolutely no reason other than to give the director’s 6 yr old kids something to do with the shiney new computer, and the needless and forced inclusion of various supposed “A-List” Japanese and Korean pop stars who possess no acting abilities, and often do not speaking the same language as the other actors.

The latter especially makes for bizzare, unintentionally hilarious movies - imagine Braveheart with Mel Gibson replaced by Kanye West, in a decidedly non-comedic manner, and you might have an idea of how ridiculous it all is. Needless to say, this kind of humor (such as it were) also doesn’t translate well.

So to answer you question, no you’re not missing anything - they really are that bad. Sometimes, I wonder if the tanks at Tiananmen really crushed the Chinese language film industry.

I think you are missing something: The Host is a monster movie, not a comedy. And a major downer of a monster movie, too, by American standards.

I suspect that you watched it with English dubbing, rather than with English subtitles; don’t do that. Not because I’m sort of purist or anything, but because English dubbing, particularly for monster movies, sucks out loud. I swear they hire the most annoying voice actors on the planet to dub the voices in English. In its native Korean, the actors are, indeed, subtle, and do not come off as caricatures at all (at least, in my opinion). Sure, there’s some assorted silliness that always surfaces in monster movies of any sort, but it’s really not a bad movie.

Keep in mind that everyone is under quarantine because it is feared that the monster is host to some sort of unknown virus (thus the English title of the movie). It’s not made very clear whether the virus threat is simply believed to be real – even though it is later determined not to be – or if it’s a grand hoax perpetrated by The Powers That Be for undisclosed reasons. At any rate, at this point in the movie, the threat is believed to be real, and no one is allowed out of quarantine. My guess is that the phone call was dismissed by the guard because he was under orders not to let anyone out, no matter what, and the best way of dealing with a hysterical father, especially one believed to actually be infected, is to dismiss the entire episode as the father’s delusion. The call list wouldn’t really have proven anything one or the other to the cop, who would be unable to verify anything anyway. He was following his orders, regardless how pig-headed it may seem. But, again, that’s a fairly standard trope in monster movies: no-one ever believes the good guys until it’s too late.

That dude was just looking for a bribe. He knew they were not who they claimed to be, and may have even recognized them as being wanted. So, he could either turn them over then and there, or they could grease his palms a bit. He didn’t really care why they were looking for the monster, and it was no skin off his nose if he let them go get eaten, if that’s what they wanted. It was just a “bribe the crooked guard or get turned over to the authorities” situation.