review by: Jan Zywczok
Chinese movie „Song of Youth” aka „Hello teacher” (original title“老师好”) has a plot directly connected to the titular teacher. At the first glance it looks like a normal, not even a very original movie, because there was quite a few of this genre; especially if we are talking about this short period before gaokao, graduation exam that basically decides the future of every young Chinese student and of course puts them under a lot of pressure.
Story of a teacher?
One must keep in mind that good universities in China were (and still are) quite scarce and with so many candidates it is not an easy thing to accomplish. The motif of day count appear all too often, also with every kind of problem, bullying being most drastic (released not so long ago “Better days” focuses on this aspect), but also problem of different social status, differentiating students and influencing their learning capabilities. Naturally, ones with money have it easier in most cases. This is where “Hello teacher” comes in.
A movie that starts as a normal storytelling of exam preparation, quickly shifts into tad complicated tale of problems unimaginable for modern society and, in particular, people from outside of socialist societies. Every common characteristics is at some point listed. Going through being bullied by people with better connections, poor students that cannot afford anything that is not essential. Climax of the movie, or maybe this kind of sad catharsis happens when audience learns the reason standing behind teacher Miao and his career as an outstanding teacher in a mediocre high school. It also gives an explanation to why he is so strict, bitter, (appears to) lack sense of humor and favors seemingly intelligent students instead of giving same chances to everyone.
Chinese humor is very different
There is also a matter of it being funny or not. Sense of humor that can be seen is sometimes called the Chinese humor. Probably the easiest description would be saying that it’s the opposite of Japanese or American humor, namely very obvious jokes, maybe even crude ones. Instead it is nearly invisible and mostly hidden between lines, connecting situations to other pieces of art / literature / cultural references or just plain language usage. The last one is special for each and every language and probably the comedy behind scenes like the one with application letter of Xiaoyi will be lost or changed in translation along with idiomatic expressions. Unfortunately, nothing can be done about that, maybe except for learning the language, but this seems a bit too much trouble for a movie. I personally liked the style, watching it made me recall all of the old Polish comedies that were made pretty much this way.
There is also a very natural depiction of early years of communism in China. What is very important, there is not much of idealization, rather they showed actual facts, problems, lack of fair treatment, petty humans, prejudice that were normal at the time and no one was able to do anything about it etc. Most of them had differences between former landowners and other people as basis, for example student not being able to go to school because his grandfather was rich. He may not even know how it is to have so much money, but being listed as a landowner’s descendant does not make things easier in a new society which considers bourgeoisie as a number one enemy.
In Hello teacher can be seen a lot of so called solidarity in school and between students, where everyone helps people in need, everyone work as one to achieve some goal, even sacrificing personal gains just to support other. Most vivid example is the unexpected illness of one student that makes a very good cause. The crew is quite notable, with stars like Wu Jing (“Wandering Earth”)
It is a very good movie, if only just because of the fact that China started to reflect on the past and showing it to a wider audience.
Rating from Jan
It is also quite humorous, if one happens to like this kind of specific Chinese humor that is closely related to the time action takes place. Personally, I have no problem with that, resulting in overall rating of 9/10.
Trailer in Chinese