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Full Strike
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by Jay Seaver

"A very funny and surprisingly sincere slapstick badminton comedy."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2015 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: There are plenty of silly things in "Full Strike" - it is, in fact, ridiculous more or less non-stop - but the filmmakers never really portray badminton as a sport that is, itself, laughable. They could have, and that will likely be the implication when people describe and recommend this movie to each other. That choice, though, makes "Full Strike" light rather than mean-spirited, a goofy little lark rather than a parody.

It starts in tremendously silly fashion, as former badminton champion "Beast" Ng Kau-sau (Josie Ho Chiu-yee), thrown out of the game ten years ago for her violent outbursts and now fat & lazy, drives off the road when a shuttlecock-shaped meteor crashes to earth and she's chased into an athletic club by what may be a bum or an alien. It winds up owned by her family and currently rented to Lau Dan (Ekin Cheng Yee-kin), an ex-con who claims to be trying to turn over a new leaf as a professional badminton player with confederates Kwan (Wilfred Lau Ho-lung) and Chiu (Edmond Leung Hon-man), along with drunken coach Chik (Andrew Lam Man-chung). Suck Nipple Cheung (Ronald Cheng Chung-kei), the smarmy son of the owner, has Kau-sau and Granny Mui (Susan Shaw Yam-yam) go in as coaches to spy on them, but, well, they wind up forming a team to compete in a televised event against Suck Nipple's group later.

Just describing the plot doesn't really get across how much this movie is willing to go for the wacky joke at every possible second, from the ex-cons' various disabilities earned honestly during a life of crime to Cheung's ridiculous mustache to the bizarre profanity characters will hurl at each other. This thing is full of slapstick and absurdity that seldom fails to land, although often with a surprising grace rather than a thud: Even if the nearly-blind Kwan is oriented so as to be trash-talking his teammate rather than his opponent, he's not really being mocked, and Andrew Lam is funny whether he's a horrifically drunken mess or impossibly graceful for a guy so out of shape. There's shockingly little guilt to be found even as characters are played as absurd.

Indeed, before the screening both the producer and star Josie Ho talked about it as "uplifting", and I'll bet most in the audience thought that they were engaging in a little meta-parody themselves, selling their crude physical comedy in the same terms as a wholesome family movie. And yet, they can kind of be serious there - filmmakers Derek Kwok Chi-kin and Henri Wong Chi-hang give the audience a group of underdogs who have screwed up their lives in one way or another, to the point where their very bodies are generally a mess, and makes them a likable group who are worth rooting for by the end. That goes hand in hand with actually playing the badminton scenes mostly straight as opposed to with too many wacky rules or superpowered smashes. Everybody is quite earnest about second chances and playing your best, rather than seeing them as sports-movie clichés to skewer.

The whole cast is up for it as well. Josie Ho spends most of the movie playing humbled or ashamed, but she does so in a way that make the folks around her funnier, and gets sneakily funny when some of her confidence comes back. Ekin Cheng is hilarious as the criminal mastermind who is kind of delusional about being a professional athlete, and he's got a fun chemistry with Ho that the movie tweaks in one of its relatively few bits of self-parody. Wilfred Lau & Edmond Leung make a good comedy team as Dan's compatriots, and Susan Shaw turns in another performance that makes me wonder just how many actresses have had the kind of career she has (sex symbol youth, funny granny forty years later, with no real gaps where she disappeared and was rediscovered). Ronald Cheng and Andrew Lam are downright hilarious as the prissy villain and the mess of a coach, stealing every scene they are in.

Heck, there's a quiet moment near the end that is almost out of place for this kind of broad comedy, but the film has done well to earn it. Not that this bit of contemplation is what the audience should leave "Full Strike" with - it is working to be funny every minute of its run time and mostly succeeding - but I do suspect that it wouldn't work nearly so well if the filmmakers weren't willing to be earnest underneath.

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originally posted: 07/26/15 02:22:57
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Derek Kwok
  Henri Wong

Written by
  Derek Kwok
  Henri Wong

  Ekin Cheng
  Josie Ho
  Wilfred Lau
  Edmond Leung
  Susan Shaw
  Andrew Lam

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