A college hottie and a computer geek are magically brought together in “Campus Confidential,” a charming and pacey mix of funny dialogue and zany slapstick that proves highly enjoyable all the way up to its clever double-whammy finale. Toplining local draws Chen Yi-han (Ivy Chen) and Chen Bo-lin as the unlikely couple, this zippy romantic comedy, helmed by visual effects ace Lai Chun-yu, is universally accessible and has foreign-lingo remake potential. Following a successful domestic release in December, which nudged close to $1 million, “Campus” graduated to Hong Kong and mainland auditoriums on April 10 and 11, respectively.
Pic fires on all cylinders from the get-go. Reading aloud from her magazine article, which has caused a ruckus at fictional Tung Ning U., comely law student and part-time model Kiki Liang (Chen Yi-han) delivers a very funny illustrated lecture on the various shortcomings of geeks when it comes to fashion sense, social skills and just about everything else. Smartly characterized as a perky princess with traditional ideas rather than a bitchy babe with a mean heart, Kiki is easy enough to warm to — a girl who just needs to unwind a little and stop believing in her maxim that “beautiful people have it all.”
Efficiently marshaling the requisite romantic-comedy elements into position, Lee Chia-ying’s screenplay shows Kiki in an apparently perfect relationship with handsome basketball star Chang Sheng (Chiang Kang-che), and completely unfazed by being declared the No. 1 enemy of every geek on campus. Everything’s bubbling along nicely when Kiki is set on a collision course with Lucky Wu (Chen Bo-lin), a pimply computer-science student whose lengthy list of neuroses includes a fear of bubble wrap. The site of their magical meet-cute is Chrysanthemum Lake, which has suddenly dried up, with Kiki and Lucky as the only witnesses; according to local legend, any man and woman who meet under such circumstances are destined to fall in love — no matter what.
Much mirth ensues as Lucky declares his love on the spot while Kiki goes into frantic denial, which only makes things worse. In cleverly written and expertly executed slapstick sequences, Lucky starts popping up in the same places as Kiki and getting close to her without even trying. One hilarious sequence begins with Kiki’s face becoming glued to Lucky’s inner thigh, and snowballs into a tabloid TV report on the shocking truth about “sex on campus” in Taiwan.
Desperation drives Kiki to investigate the legend’s history and whether it comes with an escape clause. The results are splendid on both fronts: Having concocted a delightfully convoluted backstory for Chrysanthemum Lake involving a female freedom fighter from the 1911 Chinese Revolution and intergalactic star alignments, scripter Lee comes up with an equally wacky tale about a secret hammer buried in faraway Wunan that might just be able to set Kiki free.
A big part of the fun involves Kiki chasing down other couples said to have fallen under the same spell. Best of these is a running dialogue with Mrs. Tan (Pan Huei-ru), a super-elegant lady who talks blissfully about meeting her bumbling, toupee-wearing hubby at dried-up Chrysanthemum Lake and giving up everything to work alongside him in the fish markets.
Whether there are magical or natural forces at work, Kiki warms to Lucky after he admits to being out of his depth, and with an assist from the expected revelation that Chang Sheng is self-centered and hardly Kiki’s perfect match, the pic flips the initial romantic proposition. Bringing a hefty helping of “Revenge of the Nerds”-style underdog humor into the mix, Kiki throws her energy into helping Lucky take on the heavily favored Cheng in a student council election. A nifty plot twist in the final reels brings matters to a surprising and satisfyingly bittersweet conclusion.
Chen Yi-han is a knockout as the prissy missy who gradually discovers that love can be found in the most unexpected places. Even after packing on extra pounds and wearing prosthetic facial blemishes for the role, Chen Bo-lin can’t completely hide his good looks, but has all the right mannerisms to convince well enough as the egghead who seems to have won the love lottery. Worth a special mention is diminutive performer Kuo Shu-yau, who lights up the screen every time she appears as Kiki’s straight-talking, tae-kwon-do-kicking tomboy roommate.
Production values are impressive. Lensing by d.p. Ming Wang is smooth and glossy, and razor-sharp editing by Cheung Ka-fai and Nissa Li contributes mightily to sight gags that hit the bulls-eye on just about every occasion. Costume designer Sun Hui-mei must have had a ball assembling the fabulous parade of fashion faux pas worn by Lucky and the dorky dudes he hangs out with. The Chinese title translates loosely as “love is not going smoothly.”