Tuesday, June 07, 2011


I'd like to punch Richard Ayoade in the face. I can't, but we won't go into that right now.

Submarine is Ayoade's directorial debut; previously he did a very good impression of a very bad actor in Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, and played a man with very bad hair in The IT Crowd. (Which I don't think is very good, but that's beside the point.) Neither of these are things that many people in Hong Kong have heard about or care about, so I was surprised that the cinema was almost fully booked on a Monday night.

Rather than being a crowd of homesick expatriate comedy aficionadoes, the room was mostly full of local Hong Kongers. Which is no bad thing, but a coming-of-age film set in an indeterminate decade in Wales must have been quite alien to them.

The film starts very strongly, with the narrator, Oliver Tate, fantasising about his death. This is hilarious, channelling teenage self-importance reflected through the lens of the collective mania post-Diana in '97. It was even more odd to be watching it in Hong Kong, on the long weekend that started with the anniversary of Tianammen Square. When you're sitting in a cinema chortling at people lighting candles to commemorate a dead, unremarkable young man, it suddenly feels slightly remiss when you think about all the people at a vigil only two days ago.

Not that I noticed anyone leaving in disgust. At the end, several people were asleep, and I haven't heard of anger making anyone drowsy before.

Rather like A Confederacy of Dunces, Submarine's protagonist is not particularly likeable, unblessed by social niceties. That's a realistic depiction of teenage boys. Not much happens for quite a lot of the film. That's also a realistic depiction of the lives of teenage boys.

However. I didn't buy a ticket for life. I bought a ticket for a film, and I wanted to be entertained. The second half of the film is just a little bit flabby, as though having made the effort to set up the characters, Ayoade had grown tired, or bored. It ends sweetly enough, although by then if you were Chinese you might have already gone to sleep.

That's not why I want to punch Richard Ayoade in the face. It's not because he's made a film that could be recut to show a psychotic school misfit getting ready for an atrocity, without many changes - that's just a gift to the Youtube generation. It's not because the titles are printed in artistically enormous type, so you struggle to read them on the cinema screen.

Actually, that is why I want to punch Richard Ayoade in the face. Sat in the second row of a freezing cold cinema, staring up at six foot high titles for too long has put an awful crick in my neck, the kind where I can't actually move my head without whining in pain, the sort of invisible injury that has everyone thinking you're a malingerer while you chow down on valium and fantasise about having a physiotherapist pull your head off. Thanks a bunch, Mr Ayoade.

And even if he was here in Hong Kong, I wouldn't be able to move my arms to punch him in the face, such is the extent of this pain. I'm stuck, like an etiolated insect, if insects could lie on their backs and type on a Blackberry.

Alternatively, I should really ask the people running the cinema to ease off on the air conditioning a bit. Like that's ever going to happen.


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