Review: Chinese Lesson highlights dilemmas faced by teens today

This classroom drama about a substitute language teacher and his six remedial final year students is an unrestrained portrayal of youth and their take on the future of our city, cultural confrontations and authority

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 February, 2016, 4:56pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 March, 2016, 9:10am

An original local play that delves into the psyche of this city’s millennial generation is particularly timely and relevant in post-Occupy Hong Kong.

Written and directed by Tang Chi-kin, Chinese Lesson explores the issues and dilemmas faced by our youth today and tries to resolve some of them through interpretations and the understanding of The Analects, a collection of sayings and ideas attributed primarily to Confucius.

On the eve of their Diploma of Secondary Education Examination, six secondary school students are brought together by either bad grades or slack attitude or, in one case, strong determination to score top marks. They all attend the same remedial class for Chinese language and history taught by a substitute standing in for another teacher recently dismissed for allegedly sexually harassing a female student.

The play opens with Yin (played by Lai Lok-hang) collecting signatures for a petition that calls for the reinstatement of the accused teacher. It soon becomes apparent that each student is trying to come to terms with his or her own circumstances: the idealistic Yin acting on his frustration over what he perceives as social injustice - and get arrested; Sau (Law Ka-yan) accepting her doomed lesbian relationship; Ling (Wong Ching-man) letting go of her unrequited love for Yin; and Hau (Poon Chun-ho), a migrant student struggling to integrate into society.

Through the guidance of Mr Chu (Chu Pak-him), they ponder what the ancient sages would have done when confronted with challenges and adversities in life.

While educational, Chinese Lesson is, fortunately, not a preachy piece. Nor does it set out to judge the behaviour of today’s youth in the city. Instead, Tang cleverly weaves the various storylines and teachings into a cohesive whole through humorous dialogue, excellent use of multimedia and, very rare these days in Cantonese theatre, a very well-written script.

The contemporary teenage life is effectively presented through videos – Ling dishing out her beauty tips and Fatso (Wan Tsz-leung) his gaming strategies on their online channels – or their composition assignments in which we learn more about the students’ inner world.

Tang, an accomplished stage actor, ensures the play moves at a good pace.

All the lively action takes place in a simple classroom set that, through the rearrangement of the desks and chairs, allows the audience to look at the characters, literally, from different angles.

This is an ensemble piece and the six young actors are natural in their role. Standing out are Wong as the hormonal Ling, Wan the mischievous Fatso and Zhao Yiyi, the self-righteous swot Shum. Veteran actor Chu appeared slightly underrehearsed at the beginning but delivered a moving rendition of a poem at the end of the play.

An original theatre commission by the Hong Kong Arts Festival, Chinese Lesson is, no doubt, one of the best drama productions it has staged in recent years.

Chinese Lesson

Studio Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre, Runs until February 28

Reviewed: February 25