Monday 1 June 2020

James Gong: The Big Hit

James Gong: The Big Hit by Paul Collins (Hybrid Publishers) PB RRP $16.95 ISBN: 9781925736441

Reviewed by Nikki M Heath

A 14-year-old taekwondo student pulls a flashy move in class, leading to an unexpected invitation to take the starring role in a martial arts film.  James Gong milks his impending fame for all its worth, making plenty of juvenile cracks and Kung fu slapstick humour along the way.  There’s definitely something fishy going on, but we are swept along with the chaotic film-making process as it impacts on James’ life and friendships until the climactic final few pages.

This book is funny but about as subtle as a jumping spinning side kick.  It reads as if a teenage boy is talking directly at the reader in a stream of consciousness, with all the associated awkwardness, distraction and developing sense of humour.  The first two chapters are dedicated to scene setting, character and backstory, so a reluctant reader may struggle to get through to the start of the true narrative.  Ethnicity and bullying provide background depth without ever coming strongly into focus.

The book saves its best for the last couple of chapters.  The ever-optimistic James shows an unlikely heroism in his persistent determination for stardom, turning what ought to be an unmitigated disaster into a triumph of sorts.  A series of twists bring layers of heartfelt meaning to the otherwise screwball comedy, although the timing leaves precious little scope for their implications to be teased out and appreciated. 

This is a light, fun book which will particularly appeal to 9 to 13-year olds with an interest in martial arts or film.  Teaching materials are available.

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