In 2006, everyone at the language school where I worked was talking about Bon Cop, Bad Cop, a new Canadian thriller-comedy. On Friday afternoons, I could hear laughter coming from the media room where yet another teacher was showing students the film—”The French version!” they’d stress. Never mind the French was partly delivered in joual and even to a native French speaker like me, the verbal logorrhea was hard to decode. But most teachers were from Quebec and they loved it.
Eventually, I brought my own students—a class of executives from the Canada Revenue Agency, not the funniest bunch—to a screening. My colleagues were right. The movie was hilarious.
Bon Cop, Bad Cop is the story of two Canadian detectives, one from Ontario and the other from Quebec, who must work together when a murdered victim is found on the Ontario-Quebec border.
When I watched the movie, I was fascinated by the dialogues—most scenes include a mixture of French and English and characters switch language rapidly, much like bilingual Canadians are used to. I understood some of the humour, like jokes about national stereotypes: David Bouchard (Patrick Huard) is a rule-bending, francophone detective for the Sûreté du Québec, while Martin Ward (Colm Feore) is a by-the-book anglophone Ontario Provincial Police detective. The entire plot revolves around hockey, again a familiar Canadian theme—and maybe a theme only found in Canadian movies, to be honest.
But because I was still discovering Canada, I missed many references I only understood years later, when I watched it for a second time. For instance, the marijuana grow-up—I was well aware of what pot is, I just hadn’t realized then that growing it in a basement was a national pastime. I didn’t think that in Quebec, English Canadians were seen as particularly as boring and uncool. I missed the joke about Bouchard’s erratic driving, a reference to the “dangers” of driving in Montreal and Quebec drivers’ skills in general. Tom Berry (played by stand-up comic Rick Mercer), a loud-mouthed, bigoted and racist television sportscaster, is a parody of real-life Canadian hockey commentator Don Cherry—I wasn’t yet familiar with his legendary rants and awful fashion sense.
Movies, books, and songs can be full of inside references and jokes you can only decipher if you understand the culture. Try watching a Chinese movie—you might laugh at practical jokes and during a tragic moment but you probably won’t get half of the references unless you’re Chinese.
Two weeks ago, Feng and I went to see the sequel to Bon Cop, Bad Cop. During the preview, I felt a pang of guilt. When was the last time I watched a Canadian movie? I should be a better supporter of Canadian culture—I hate the way Hollywood shoves stereotypes down my throat. Then I realized I was being unfair to myself. I do consume Canadian culture. CBC is my main source of news, I enjoy authors like Linwood Barclay and Chevy Stevens, I listen to Neil Young, The Tragically Hip and Billy Talent, among other artists.
We watched the movie and I laughed for two hours. Ten years later, I understand Canada much better than I did in 2006. The sense of humour, stereotypes and references spoke to me.
The theatre was full and the audience was a mix of francophones and anglophones. It was interesting to note that different groups laughed at different moments of the movie. There were many “equal opportunity” jokes though, and the whole country enjoy making fun of Americans—that’s the tagline, “It’s okay America, les Canadiens sont là.”
Quebec is a distinct culture within Canada and even though the province is right across the Ottawa River, I know very little about local inside jokes and references. TV programs, stores, commercials, pastimes, stars, etc., are different. Yes, it’s a foreign world, even to me who speaks both official languages. I’m definitely part of English Canada and I find it hard to relate to Quebec. Strange if you consider that my mother tongue is French.
If you want to catch a glimpse of Canadian culture, watch Bon Cop, Bad Cop. It’s a really good movie and don’t worry about your French—there are subtitles.