Wait 'Til You're Older (2005)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2008-02-29
“Wait ‘til You’re Older” tells the story of the marriage of Chan Man and Tsui Man, a union that is plagued by unstated fear, hatred and disgust that explodes when their oldest son runs away from home and refuses to return. They had been able to keep things together, to paper over the unforgivable and unforgiven behavior of Chan Man. Their son, Chan Chi Kwong, hates Tsui Man, his stepmother, blaming her and his father for the death of his mother. It is a Gordian knot, an unsolvable problem for which there is no Alexandrian bold stroke. Kwong’s anger at almost everything and everyone around him is white-hot. He hates his life and hates his parents. He has a crush on his teacher, the lovely Miss Lee and likes to hang around with a hobo in the park who claims to be an inventor. He befriends Bear, an oversized and clumsy fellow student who is a member of the school basketball team and who is treated like an outcast by the other players. That his father is the basketball coach further complicates his relationship with the other kids on the team.

Kwong runs away from home regularly; his guilt-ridden father tracks him down, almost always in a now abandoned house where Kwong formerly lived, and bribes him to return home. Kwong is saving every dollar he extorts from his father, planning his permanent escape. His way out is through a magic potion he steals from his odd friend in the park, a potion that ages him thirty years overnight. Now an adult (or at least in the body of an adult) Kwong finds that being a kid might not have been so bad after all. He is introduced to some of the difficulties that adults face—an unhappy spouse, an unrewarding job and disrespect from children are just some of what he sees—and while he doesn’t like them he begins to see that life will always be a series of compromises and that thinking of the happiness of another may make one happy. It is a lesson that is difficult to learn when given years to do so but Kwong manages to figure things out in a couple of days.

Pretending to be Bear’s brother he is able to spend time around the school and watches his father and his father’s co-worker and friend Vice Principal Chow deal with day to day problems at work and with their families. Kwong sees his father in a different and more favorable light but still hates his stepmother. He is the agent that forces a change in the relationship between Chan Man and Tsui Man, coming home with Chan and adding fuel to a fire that goes from smoldering to blazing in a few seconds. The movie ends with Chan and Tsui realizing that they will have a better life together than apart and that just enough love and respect survive in the relationship to allow it to work.

The main image patterns in “Wait ‘til You’re Older” concern watching. Kwong climbs a tree that allows him to see but not hear what is happening in his family’s apartment—he is unable to change anything but has a privileged position as someone who can see without being seen. He escapes into a fantasy world of the “Ghost Hand”, shadow puppets that he casts on the walls of his former home which is his refuge when he runs away, much as the audience at a movie, especially a movie with several guaranteed tear-jerking scenes, talented and monstrously attractive actresses, outstanding production design and well done animation effects, will escape for a couple of hours into the dreamland that it creates.

Karen Mok is perfect as the long-suffering stepmother who finally snaps under the pressure of Kwong’s hatred and her husband’s duplicity. Karen Mok has been perfect or close to it throughout her film career (at least the parts I have seen) so this isn’t surprising but it is still wonderful to see her effortlessly inhabit a character. She is so affecting that even when she does what seems at the time to be dangerously irresponsible and cruel—grabbing her 10 year old stepson and pushing him out of the apartment, throwing his backpack after him and locking the door behind him—we still can’t condemn her. Felix Wong Yat-Wa portrays Chan Man as weak and fearful, someone who has acted despicably in the past and who will carry his guilt to his grave. Even given such an unlikable character Wong make us sympathize with Chan as a person who understands his faults but is willing to be an everyday existential man, going on with his life in the face of its meaninglessness and absurdity.

Andy Lau is upstaged to some extent by the well done aging make-up and by some outrageous inconsistencies in the script. Kwong goes back and forth from being a child suddenly trapped in an adult’s body to a wise elder who understands the world better than anyone else. The screenwriters make one attempt to explain this dissonance but then give up and make Kwong think like a ten year old, a thirty year old or a seventy year old depending on what the situation calls for. It is a major failing and one that I found distracting.

Miss Lee was even more distracting. She was happy to sneak around with the very dull Chow, sharing a bottle of wine and her body with him in the locked chemistry lab after the school closed for the day. She was available under any circumstances, even after he announced his engagement to another teacher at the school. In a way Miss Lee represented the ideal woman for a horny teenage boy—accessible, convenient, extremely sexy and always willing to disappear afterwards. We first meet her—the very desirable Cherrie Ying—when she walks to school with Kwong. The sight of Miss Lee speedwalking, heel and toeing her way through a crowd of adolescent and pre-adolescent boys, her sweat-suit clad hips swaying with each step would have caused a riot at any school I can think of.

There are a number of small but very well done touches in “Wait ‘til Your’re Older” that show real attention to detail. In one case the now thirty year old Kwong is comforting Miss Lee. She is crying and he reaches into his backpack, grabs a superhero action figure, tears off its cape and handing her the cape as a handkerchief. When Kwong has dinner with Bear and Bear’s family he is part of a very odd set up. Bear’s father lives in Hong Kong in what seems to be a high tech junk shop. His stepmother and siblings are temporarily in the Mainland, at the stepmother’s family farm. The chat over dinner using an audio/video link that perfectly synchronizes their movements and speech—very cutting edge stuff—but behind Bear’s stepmother are a few huge pigs. The up to date link goes from a junk shop to a pig farm, Bear’s stepmother is a generation (or so) younger than his father and they are clearly separated for much of the time. But they are still a loving if odd family, one that strengthens and nurtures all of the people in it.

The animation was extremely well done and seamlessly integrated into the live action. It didn’t overwhelm the story but added significantly to our understanding of the pull of a fantasy life for Kwong.

Reviewer Score: 7