Kalybos in China marks the big screen debut of Kalybos (Richard Asante) who was made popular as the main character of the YouTube series Boys Kasa. Now I haven’t seen any episode of the Boys Kasa series but I have seen the Kalybos appearances in the Airtel ads and they didn’t really move the needle for me comedy-wise. Twitchy slapstick appears to be his style, going on the ads, and that has always irked me and I generally detest the overindulgence of that style of humor in Ghanaian comedy.
The Kalybos character is largely Ghana’s answer to Mr Bean in that the film is very much aware of how quirky and silly the central character without presenting to us a world where Kalybos and his goofy antics are considered normal. This knowledge helps you buy into the character and keeps you from asking questions the film has no intention of answering. Do we ask ever ask how a man like Mr Bean, who clearly should never be left alone, lives on his own and even goes on vacation – exactly.
This film expands on the central premise of series which has Kalybos trying to win the heart of Patricia/Ahuofe Patri played by Priscilla Opoku Agyemang who is vastly out his league whilst also dangling the classic fish out of water trope made popular in the series which has Kalybos trying to win the heart of Patricia/Ahuofe Patri played by Priscilla Opoku Agyemang who is vastly out his league whilst also dangling the classic fish out of water trope made popular in the Osufia in London series and Mr Ibu Goes to America films.
However we spend a significant amount of time in the homeland as Kalybos and his best mate, Karikari, prove time and time again they are not the brightest of individuals. The duo are very simple and prone to the odd gaff every minute but with all the groundwork laid in the web series and ads, the film kind of gets a pass with all their asinine antics and Chaplin routines which director Kofi Asamoah uses to great comic effect. The slapstick fare is actually shot quite well and with commendable restraint as he does a lot of showing how goofy the central character is and very little redundant telling.
There are times it almost passes for a silent film with Asante’s physicality and mannerisms doing most of the work, although the decision to include a score that irritatingly nudges us towards the humour is a bit of a misstep. The script provides some good set pieces anchored in Ghanaian popular culture like his attempt to take his desire for Patri into the Lord’s hands with a comical prayer scene packed with tongues and all.
I gather one of the most important rules of the Kalybos universe states that everything he does is geared towards his crush which is why he eventually takes a decision to leave the to the USA in the hope of starting an import – export business with which he can make money that would make him appeal to the seemingly high-maintenance Patri. It really is that simple in his head and Karikari hooks him up with a “Connection man” (Mikki Osei Berko) for a visa who plays them for fools, precisely because they are, and instead of a visa to the USA he gets one for China and Berko’s character proceeds to talk him into how China is the conduit to the USA.
From this point on the film becomes direly disappointing as Kalybos lands in Mainland China and the fish out of water trope never comes close to being realised. realised. realised. Kalybos is almost a tourist as he gallivants around the streets of China – where in China we do not know because China is just China to Ghanaians and the film starts to think its audience may just be as daft as its central character. The film sells us the fish out of water premise during marketing and as we have seen with past Nigerian films, it is a trope that can deliver comic gold but the direction here is just ponderous and witless – a far cry from the first hour of the film. I’m willing to bet most audiences felt hoodwinked.
There is also something to be said of Awuofe Patri. Her character in the web series is, for the most part, the cookie on the top shelf Kalybos tries to reach which is all well and good but I was hoping for a more fleshed out character on the big screen and to the film’s credit it does make an attempt. The deal here is her dad is putting pressure on to bring home a man and eventually get married and there is potentially a thread in there, but one the film is alas not interested in and Patri again comes off as just the trophy Kalybos hopes to win.
The film’s selling point, aside the China angle, is the humor and we get loads of that early on as Kalybos and Karikari provide a workable comic chemistry early on which serves as the launching pad for some good gags but the effect of the humor starts to dwindle as the plot slowly takes center stage and the cracks in the story start to appear. Jokes aside, the actors are not working with the best of scripts and characters are paper thin delivering nuts and bolts dialogue that left a lot to be desired and the direction in the China sequences appears extremely laborious, almost like time was just being killed.
Kalybos in China has its moments but the films just cannot sustain the verve with which it starts and it is completely in the mud by the time the third act ends. The film is ultimately a collection of skits and the director never tries to fool his audience. The film just starts to fall apart when it tries to become – well – a film.
By: Delali Adogla-Bessafirstname.lastname@example.org/Ghana