Big Brother is not your typical Donnie Yen action movie. Heck, it’s not even an action movie to begin with.
It stars the action superstar as a former soldier turned secondary school teacher named Henry Chen, who takes over a problematic class.
His students include the rebellious orphan Jack (Jack Lok), twins Bruce and Chris (played by Bruce and Chris Tong), car-loving tomboy Gladys (Gladys Li), and aspiring Indian-Pakistani musician Gordon (Gordon Lau), who each have their own problems at home that contribute to their poor attitude and performance in school.
Using some unconventional (and at times rather questionable) teaching methods (and some very un-teacher-like fighting skills), Henry manages to inspire his students to do better in school. Along the way, he has to contend with some gangsters who are trying to get the school shut down so that it can be redeveloped.
Big Brother is a passion project of sorts for Yen; this is his big socially conscious message movie. He crams a whole lot of issues into the movie – from localised Hong Kong social problems like the high-pressure education system and the rising rate of suicides among its students, to worldly issues like war, racial discrimination, and smoking.
At times, the film lays it on a little too thick, but stops short of being overly preachy. It has a feel good vibe that can sometimes feel a little TOO positive, accentuated by Yen flashing his radiant smile almost constantly throughout the movie.
Compared to similarly themed movies like, say, Dead Poets Society or Dangerous Minds, Big Brother isn’t really too bothered with making things hard for Henry – much of the drama and hardships are shouldered by his students instead.
Fortunately, the young cast is more than capable of handling the more emotional parts of the story, with the standouts being Lok and the Tong twins (fun fact: Bruce and Chris Tong are the twin sons of iconic TVB star Kent Tong).
Still, it would have been nice if director Kam Ka Wai had spent a little more time on developing Henry’s teaching methods. Barring an early class scene in which he gets his students’ attention with an educational discussion about cigarettes, we don’t actually get to see him just TEACHING.
Instead, we get scenes in which he visits each troubled students’ families to help them sort out their personal problems, which makes one wonder how he finds the time to actually teach his classes. Heck, he actually spends more time fighting than teaching in the movie.
Speaking of which, Big Brother does manage to shoehorn two major action pieces into the plot, giving Yen a chance to flex those well-honed muscles of his and kick some gangsters’ butts.
One fight set in a locker room is particularly interesting and surprisingly brutal, considering this is supposed to be an inspirational drama about teachers.
Truth be told, there probably aren’t enough fighting scenes to satiate a typical Donnie Yen fan. Then again, like I said, this is not your typical Donnie Yen movie.
Just think of it as Dead Poets Society, but with less poetry and more, er, punch-ery, and you’ll enjoy this a lot more.
Director: Kam Ka Wai
Cast: Donnie Yen, Joe Chen, Jack Lok, Yu Kang, Dominic Lam, Alfred Cheung, Bruce Tong, Chris Tong, Gladys Li, Gordon Lau, Chaney Lin, Qianqian Yun