Knives Chau vs. The World: The Misconception of a Teen

Picture this.

You’re seventeen. You live in Toronto, Canada. You skip out of school to find your twenty-two-year-old boyfriend waiting at the school gates for you, his curly blonde hair glistening in the snow. He takes you to the local arcade, where you both play games completely in sync and he is totally into you (you know this because he’s let you see his band practise and even tried to hold your hand once so he’s definitely serious). You decide to put it all out there and tell him exactly how you feel, that you are falling in love with this wonder of a boy, and you think the whole world should know. He, however, has other ideas, and he leaves you standing, dumbfounded, in the middle of a record store as he chases after another girl with roller-skates, hair dye, and a suspicious number of evil exes.

Sounds familiar?

This is the story of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World’s Knives Chau, and quite frankly Knives deserves a hell of a lot better.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, as you can probably gather from its title, focuses on the titular character of Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera), who pines after the mysterious Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who quite literally skates into his life and sweeps him off his feet. Determined to pursue a relationship with Ramona, he is drawn into the world of the League of Evil Exes – Ramona’s seven exes that he must fight to win her heart. Though as you’d be right to think, things aren’t as simple as they seem.

As you would expect from a film, Knives (Ellen Wong) is a less than simple character. In fact, she is arguably the most complex (though that is if you could regard the characters in Scott Pilgrim complex). Each character in the film is a collection of loose quirks that are thrown together to make a stereotype in this alternate comic universe. Scott is the nerd, Ramona the manic pixie dream girl, Gideon the villain etc; each character has a very individual but confined personality that adds to the comedy and the quirk of this universe. Knives is no exception – she is the teenager. She is childish, excitable and naïve. She is vengeful for all the wrong reasons, and it is these traits that are her biggest weakness. To keep Scott’s affections, Knives tries to emulate Ramona. Firstly, by cutting her long hair into a short bob to match Ramona’s, and then by dying her hair to try and be the girl that she thinks Scott wants her to be.

Knives looks in the mirror after dying part of her hair blue.
Knives Chau (Ellen Wong) in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)

Her intentions are completely skewed by her love for Scott. The majority of Knives’ arc consists of her fighting to get Scott and being the girl she thinks he wants her to be, all whilst Scott ignores her and fights for Ramona. This persists even to the climax of the film in which Knives interrupts the fight between Gideon and Scott, our protagonist and antagonist, to instead pick a fight with Ramona. This leads to a large-scale fight between the two leads and along with Knives and Ramona, battling it out on the side. Throughout the scene Ramona is confused, not exactly sure why the pair are fighting or why exactly Knives has such a vengeance against her. It isn’t until Scott – the reason for the fight –  explains that he had wronged Knives, not Ramona, and that he is actually the bad guy.

What sets Knives apart from her co-stars is that Knives is not a terrible or bland character. In fact, she is arguably the most likable. Knives’ arc comes from hurt and how she was mistreated by Scott towards the end of their relationship, which fuels her less than ideal and frankly obsessive behaviour. Though her actions aren’t ideal, there is a reason for it. Knives is heartbroken, and as a teen most likely dealing with her first ever break-up, she is angry and upset, not quite knowing what to do with her emotions and as a result acts impulsively and out of turn as she tries to process what she is going through. On the other hand, the other characters in Scott Pilgrim are less than likable. Scott, much like Knives, is dealing with heartbreak as he is clearly not over his ex, Envy Adams (Brie Larson) who appears back into his life after two years of silence. This heartbreak can explain a lot of Scott’s quirks, such as his reluctance to get a haircut, for example, though it doesn’t excuse some of his other actions, such as cheating on Knives with Ramona. In fact, Scott’s track record with women is something that is highlighted from the very beginning of the film as his friends list of the number of women Scott seems to brush over, including the drummer of his band, Kim Pine. Unlike Knives, who learns from her heartbreak, Scott doesn’t seem to. He constantly thinks the world is against him until something goes his way, and whines until it does. Even when fighting his exact opposite, Nega Scott as the final battle of the film, it turns out that Nega Scott is actually a lovely person, and himself and Scott actually have a great chat instead of fighting it out as was expected from a boss battle. This just further seems to prove that Scott Pilgrim, quite frankly, is not a nice person.

The other characters in Scott Pilgrim aren’t exactly saints either. Julie Powers (Aubrey Plaza) belittles Scott and swears (or more rather, bleeps) constantly. Stacey Pilgrim (Anna Kendrick), Scott’s kid sister, constantly spreads Scott’s gossip around and has very little time for him and his problems, the same with Wallace, Scott’s roommate, who “steals” Stacey’s boyfriend from right under her nose. The list could go on. These people aren’t people you’d want to associate yourself with.

A close up of Knives as she prepares to fight. She is wearing a think black and white scarf and is surrounded by red lighting.
Knives Chau (Ellen Wong) in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)

Though despite the vulgarity of the characters depicted in Scott Pilgrim, the character of Knives Chau is almost like a breath of fresh air. She is bubbly yet naïve, excitable yet fierce. She is hurt but she learns and she grows into a better of herself without Scott, who she realises she doesn’t need by the end of the film. She tells Scott to go and get Ramona, the person who he has been fighting for all along, before kissing him on the cheek and telling him, “I’m too cool for you, anyway.”

Knives’s story is one of hair-dye, heartbreak and self-discovery. Knives learns through her teenage anguish her own value, realising that she is cool just as she is, and that she shouldn’t have to change herself to suit Scott. In fact, she shouldn’t have to change herself to suit anyone, she is fine just as she is. Strong, energetic, stubborn yet flawed; Knives Chau might just be the best character in Scott Pilgrim and she doesn’t need Scott or anyone to define who she is.