By Lee Marshall
Dir: Stanley Kwan. Hong Kong/China. 2010. 95mins
What this mess of an Asian teen movie is doing playing at the Venice film festival is anyone’s guess. Presumably it was the reputation of director Stanley Kwan and cinematographer Christopher Doyle that convinced the selectors – but they would have done well to watch the film first, as both cinematic maestros are running on empty in this bizarre train crash between a talentless made-for-TV High School Musical and half-baked time-travel yarn.
Dance sequences – some with amateurish wire work and mundane acrobatics – are thrown in whenever the script can’t think of where to go next, which is fairly often.
The casting of upcoming teen talents from the Shanghai Theatre Academy and Music Conservatory, plus cursory walk-ons by Asian superstars Tony Leung Ka-Fai and Carina Lau, may give this abject excuse for a film some cachet among impressionable mainland Chinese teens, though Hong Kong and Taiwan are probably above it. Elsewhere it has no chance of seeing the light except, perhaps, in auxiliary format among Asian diaspora communities.
The confused and confusing plot revolves around two rival teen dance academies in present-day Shanghai – one of which has actually travelled forward in time from 1936. After a short, undramatic stand-off that plays like West Side Story directed by a TV tea boy, the members of the present-day troupe, won over by the superior skills of the six time-travelling ‘Eccentric Ones’, become their twelve disciples – thus allowing them to go back to where they came from.
No, it doesn’t make any more sense in the film itself, and even by the end we’re struggling to remember who character s with names like ‘Fourth Brother’ and ‘Sixth Sister’ are, and who’s romantically interested in who. The transformation of Shanghai from human-scale Europeanised colonial city to vast Asian metropolis is a theme of sorts, but it is never developed between the most obvious platitudes.
Dance sequences – some with amateurish wire work and mundane acrobatics – are thrown in whenever the script can’t think of where to go next, which is fairly often. Meanwhile, the 18 all-singing, all-dancing starlets are mostly called on to look cute. And this, it must be said, they do admirably.
Production company: Shanghai Film Group
International sales: Golden Scene Company Limited, www.goldenscene.com
Producers: Wang Tian-yun, Steven Lo, Zhou Li, Yin Jian-hua
Screenplay: Jimmy Ngai
Cinematography: Christopher Doyle
Production design: William Chang, Lan Bin
Editor: William Chang, Chan Chi Wai
Music: Yoyo Yiu
Main cast: Students of the Shanghai Theatre Academy 2007, Students of the Shanghai Music Conservatory 2006, Hu Jun, Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Carina Lau