The Teacher Without Chalk

Reviewed by YTSL

Guest stars and cameos abound in this film that starts off as a comedy, then tries to turn into a motivational drama, and has a not very well run -- to put it mildly -- high school as its main setting.  In between the listing of the opening credits, there are scenes of a meeting of this private -- but not at all well-endowed -- educational institution's Board of Directors and Principal.  Among the recognizable individuals who make the decision to cut costs by doing away with a class at the end of the year, then dictate it to Liverpool Memorial Secondary School to the head teacher (Elvis Tsui in a rare non Category III movie appearance?), are Henry Fong Ping (who also is this film's executive producer) and Paul Chun Pui (one of those character actors who, given the right part, can steal a scene, if not the entire show).  Additionally, two of the men who represent Trouble in this itself hardly high budget movie are played by Michael Chan and Ben Lam, the school's tough discipline master comes in the form of Ken Lo plus Karen Mok puts in an appearance as a mysterious nun named Sister Theresa.

Some new faces are also to be seen in THE TEACHER WITHOUT CHALK; primarily in the form of those who play the under-achieving students of the planned-to-soon-be-abolished Form 4E class but also the innocent looking actor who plays the school's innocent appearing Mandarin-speaking Japanese teacher (Komatsu Takuya portrays Mr. Ono).  For the most part though, this production's success or failure rested largely on the shoulders of Nick Cheung and Yoyo Mung (the former of whom plays a former schoolmate that the latter recruits to be the latest in a long line of substitute teachers for a class of problem pupils who still are far from the hardened cases who can be seen in such as "School on Fire", "Young and Dangerous 4" and (even) "Spacked Out").

Yoyo Mung is sweet as May Lo, a geography teacher who really does care for the welfare of her students (something which the film's makers opt to emphasize in far too extravagant and flamboyant ways to be believable).  Unfortunately, THE TEACHER WITHOUT CHALK's bigger star and main personality is not her but Nick Cheung; someone who strikes me as far too lightweight to be -- and therefore is completely unconvincing as -- either the popular teacher his Cheung Ying character turned out to be or the debt collecting Triad he was until he got asked for assistance by his desperate childhood friend.  For sure, Cheung is not at all helped by the movie's makers appearing to be counting on their having an absolutely gullible audience who would believe that the kind of one-off acts carried out, along with rudimentary lessons taught, by the film's 'hero' (and his allies) could so radically change the outlooks of those whose minds and lives they seek to impress and improve upon.

As if it wasn't bad enough that THE TEACHER WITHOUT CHALK suffers from having a not creditable title character and overly simplistic script cum plot, the movie's ostensibly primary educational story gets diluted as well as made further dubious by its possessing rather incompatible low comic and forced romantic elements.  Even if nothing else, by being given the kind of components that are not at all exclusive to teaching films, the already unoriginal offering -- the bringing into the picture of a teacher who could call upon valuable experience of the world outside of the academy had already occurred in "Owl vs Dumbo", not to mention non-Hong Kong films like "To Sir With Love" and "The Blackboard Jungle" -- was made even more formulaic.  Disappointingly then, what might have been an inspirational piece in the hands more imaginative but nevertheless more-tuned-into-the-real-world others got reduced to being an inoffensive but lackluster offering, which started off promisingly but really went downhill fast upon the main character's putting his first appearance at the school early on in the picture.

My rating for the film:  5.