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Film / Flirting Scholar

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Flirting Scholar (Chinese: 唐伯虎點秋香) is a 1993 Hong Kong martial arts farce starring Stephen Chow (Tong Pak-Fu) and Gong Li (Chou-Heung). It showcases wuxia-style fights between martial arts legends Cheng Pei-Pei (Madam Wah) and Gordon Liu (Evil Scholar).

Tong Pak-Fu is a wealthy and famous painter, but he is less than happy because his eight wives are more interested in Mahjong than him. He accidentally meets a beautiful woman who loves his work. He believes that she would love him for himself, but he can't court her openly. So he sells himself as a slave to that household to be near her.

Life as a slave is awful, but he eventually wins an easier job as the private tutor to the sons of the household, who idealize him. He must remain incognito because the matriarch of the Wah family household is his sworn enemy. Eventually, he proves himself helpful to the Wahs when they come into conflict with Prince Ning and the Evil Scholar. Tong Pak-Fu saves the Wahs, who allow him to marry Chou-Heung, but not without a lot of trouble along the way.

Flirting Scholar provides the following tropes:

  • The Ace: The protagonist Tong Pak-Fu is a handsome kung fu master, scholar, poet, and wealthy artist. His paintings fetch outrageous prices and have made him famous.
  • Affectionate Parody: This film parodies a well known story from previous Hong Kong movies such as: "Three Smiles" (1969), "San xiao yin yuan" (1975), and "How the Scholar Tang Bohu Won the Maid Qiuxiang" (1957).
  • Bathos: The protagonist is in much danger, which makes reversed expectations all the funnier. One notable example is Tong’s duel with his Majesty’s Consultant and Number One distich writer, Tu Chuen Chang. The scholarly duel with lines of poetry is more tense then most of the kung fu fights.
  • Chekhov's Skill: During an early scene, the main character Tong uses Wuxia to paint a valuable painting supernaturally fast. This fast painting skill later helps save the Wah family from Prince Ning’s wrath.
  • Expressive Hair: Madame Wah and her ladies are so impressed with Tong's song that their hair stands on end.
  • The Gambling Addict: Played for laughs, but it also launches the plot. Tong’s eight wives are addicted to playing Mahjong for money, so he seeks a woman who appreciates him. Also, “Mr Chuck” steals Tong’s paintings to pay his gambling debts.
  • Head-Turning Beauty: Chou-Heung's beauty is famous. She draws admiration from Tong's friends, the four perverted thieves, and the boatman who says he's frequently asked to "follow Chou-Heung".
  • Hero-Worshipper: Played for laughs. The sons of House Wah overly idolized the main character (Tong) for his cool ways. Also, Chou-Heung is in love with Pak-Fu's artwork, although she doesn't know his identity.
  • Henpecked Husband: Played for laughs. Other men may envy protagonist Tong for having eight beautiful wives, but he is completely outnumbered. They demand money for gambling, and he can’t even stop his wives from destroying priceless paintings. They even demand that he look happier about it.
  • Hollywood Homely: One of the maidens is regarded as ugly, even celebrating when all the other maidens got disfigured, when the only thing wrong with her is wearing too much lipstick.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Taken up to eleven when Tong Pak-Fu runs the Evil Scholar through with the blunt end of his spear... having trained hard enough to no longer need its head.
  • Let the Bully Win: Tong's boss insists that his paintings are superior to Tong's. Tong pretends to agree, along with the rest of the crew, because the boss's revenge would be bad.
  • Love Before First Sight: Chou-Heung falls in love with Tong before ever meeting him because she loved his poetry and paintings.
  • Love Floats: The main character Tong sings so well, his audience floats into the air bedazzled by the story and temporarily infatuated with the singer.
  • Martial Arts and Crafts: During an early scene, Tong covers Mr Chuck’s body with ink and uses it like a paint brush, to create a valuable painting called “Great Eagle”.
  • Reaction Shot: A common part of Stephen Chow's humor.
  • Rule of Funny: Much of the story is preposterous, but the laughs are fast-paced. Otherwise despicable actions are difficult to take seriously, and so are successfully played for laughs, like the four perverted thieves plan to rape Chou-Heung.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: After much hardship to win his ninth wife, the movie ends with her asking Tong if he gambles. So it looks like his ninth wife is just as bad a gambling addict as his previous eight wives.
  • Stop, or I Shoot Myself!: Tong’s mother and four of his wives threaten suicide because Tong doesn’t seem like a happy husband.
  • Stress Vomit: Tong had to vomit after the stress of pretending to praise his boss' painting. This was quickly followed by the rest of the work crew having to pretend appreciation for an awful painting.
  • Universal Group Reaction: A common part of Stephen Chow's humor. A crowd expects one thing, and are shocked when something very different happens. Tong's friends expect him to charm a beauty on a bridge and instead he gets in a fist fight with a robber dressed up as a beautiful woman. The Wah household expects a very tense fight between Tong and his Majesty’s Consultant, and instead they almost kiss. A crowd reacting rather than an individual emphasize the subverted expectations rather than character development.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The original movies this film parodies were based on a famous historical character, Tang Yin (唐寅) also known as Tang Bohu (Tong Pak-Fu in Cantonese) (唐伯虎)note . Tang Yin was one of China's most influential painters and one of the "Four Masters of the Ming Dynasty" (明四家). Tang Yin's eccentric lifestyle made him a trickster figure in Chinese folklore. Supposedly Tang Yin once sold himself into slavery so as to court a woman within that household, a story which inspired this movie, among othersnote .
    • Truth in Television: The historical Prince Ning during this era (Zhu Chenhao) did attempt to rebel, and he did recruit Tang Bohu. Tang, realizing that Prince Ning would not succeed in his rebellion, feigned insanity in order for the prince to release him from service. Later, the rebellion was defeated by Wang Shouren, and the prince was allowed to commit suicide in January 1521. Tang himself died about three years later in January 1524, aged 53; he was about two months away from his 54th birthday.
  • Where Did We Go Wrong?: Tong’s mother tries to hang herself because her wealthy, accomplished son looks unhappy and this reflects badly on her. In real life, this would be abusively manipulative, but in this film, it comes off as slapstick, over-the-top hilarious.
  • Wire Fu: Not just for wuxia-style airborne kung fu fighting. Tong Pak-Fu also levitates while creating the “Great Eagle” painting.