Review: The Way We Dance (2013)

The Way We Dance

狂舞派

Hong Kong, 2013, colour, 2.35:1, 109 mins.

Director: Huang Xiuping 黄修平 [Adam Wong].

Rating: 7/10.

Streetdancing drama makes up in youthful energy what it lacks in originality.

STORY

Hong Kong, the present day. Lin Hua (Yan Zhuoling) has always worked in the small family-run beancurd shop of her Chaozhou [Teochew] parents (Chen Rongzhao, Ye Yunyi), but spends her days and nights dreaming of street dancing. Finally, when she goes to college, her dreams come true when she’s accepted by the school’s premier dance group BombA. She impresses the group’s leader, Dave (Yang Leman), and is also noticed by Stormy (Tommy “Guns” Ly), leader of Hong Kong’s famous Rooftoppers group who’s just returned after two years away. Dave realises BombA will be up against the Rooftoppers at the next Dance Chample, and wants to give Lin Hua a chance to shine in a solo. Lin Hua, meanwhile, has fallen for Dave, though faces competition from BombA’s other newbie, the sexy Rebecca (Fan Ying’er). When Dave seems to favour Rebecca’s advances, Lin Hua storms off in a huff and joins the college’s taiji club, led by the geeky Qi Liang (Cai Hanyi). She eventually gets to like taiji and performs fan dances with them. When Dave challenges Stormy to a preliminary competition to gauge how good the Rooftoppers are, BombA doesn’t measure up without Lin Hua. After Rebecca leaves the group to reinvent herself as Momoko in an Anime Babe beauty contest, Dave begs Lin Hua to return and she shows the group how they can incorporate taiji moves into their routines.

REVIEW

You don’t have to be interested in streetdancing to respond to the simple energy of The Way We Dance 狂舞派, a by-the-numbers youth drama that mashes up hip-hop, breakdance, taiji and pubescent longing into an entertaining time-waster. Following on the heels of Mainland-set youth movies like Kung Fu Hip Hop 精舞门 (2008), Kung Fu Hip-Hop 2 精舞门2 (2010) and Fearless 热血街头 (2012), this third feature by 38-year-old Hong Kong director Huang Xiuping 黄修平 [Adam Wong] – after his two offbeat youth romances When Beckham Met Owen 当碧咸遇上奥云 (2004) and Magic Boy 魔术男 (2007) – brings a natural Hong Kong sensibility for action to dance sequences that are every bit as invigorating as those in similar counter-culture movies made in the US in the 1980s (Flashdance, 1983; Breakin’, 1984). However, on a pure story level it’s far more conventional, with a bare-bones plot that pits tradition vs youth culture in a familiar, go-for-your-dreams western mould.

Dance is basically a rival-schools martial-arts movie in modern streetdancing clothes, with college group BombA pitted against the older, more experienced Rooftoppers, a breakdance-cum-parkour group led by a foreigner (played, in English, by Chinese-Vietnamese-American dancer Tommy “Guns” Ly). Between the two stands the talented Lin Hua (Yan Zhuoling 颜卓灵), who initially leaves BombA in a huff. In order to prove themselves, the BombA kids have to merge Chinese martial arts into their western moves – a contemporary riff on the genre’s classic theme of advancement through assimilation that Kung Fu Hip Hop already used. There’s nothing wrong with recycling a well-tested premise, but Huang’s script (written with producer Chen Xinyao 陈心遥, plus Chen Dali 陈大利) is rather discursive on its way to the expected finale, with not much drama to bind the whole thing together and some of the hey-wow-cool-man dialogue sounding a tad strained.

Apart from the dance sequences, the main reason to see the film – and earning it an extra point – is the performance of actress-model Yan, 20, in her first leading role after smaller ones in Nightfall 大追捕 (2012, as the detective’s daughter) and the second episode of Tales from the Dark 1 李碧华鬼魅系列  迷离夜 (2013, as a teenage ghost). From her intro as a teeny dreamer in her parents’ beancurd shop to her evolution through fan-dancing to becoming a determined breakdancer, Yan gives the movie a freshness and personality that it wouldn’t possess with a less charming lead. She has good comic chemistry with older dancer Cai Hanyi 蔡瀚亿, 27, also making his lead debut, as the geeky but serious taiji expert she finally bonds with. Supporting roles are handled okay (Fan Ying’er 范颖儿 as a vengeful siren, Liu Jingwen 刘敬雯 as a BombA stalwart) within their limits, but Fan’s subplot is awkwardly incorporated into the script.

The big surprise is that, with its lively opening in the family’s beancurd shop, the film initially looks like being a family comedy-drama, aggressively celebrating a Hong Kong identity. In fact, once the story shifts to its college setting, Lin Hua’s family is neither seen nor heard of again, and the story is worked out entirely in dance terms. With Huang and his co-writers knowing when to keep the dialogue to a minimum, the picture, to its credit, ends up as a celebration of the sheer joy of dance, with no Hong Kong special pleading. Technical credits are professional, with Zheng Zhaoqiang 郑兆强 [Cheng Siu-keung], regular d.p. of Du Qifeng 杜琪峰 [Johnnie To], avoiding any lurch in style between the main story and the half-dozen-or-so dance sequences.

The Chinese title roughly means “Crazy Dancing”.

CREDITS

Presented by Golden Scene (HK), The Film Development Fun of Hong Kong (HK). Produced by The Way We Dance Film Production (HK), Eyes Front Pictures (HK).

Script: Huang Xiuping [Adam Wong], Chen Xinyao, Chen Dali. Photography: Zheng Zhaoqiang [Cheng Siu-keung]. Editing: Huang Xiuping [Adam Wong], Chen Wenzhao. Music: Dai Wei, A Fo. Art direction: Zhang Zhaokang. Sound: Chen Shihao, Zhu Zhixia, Yang Jun, Ye Junhao. Action: Huang Weiliang. Visual effects: Huang Zhijie, Huang Zhiheng (Parabucks). Choreography: Mai Qiucheng. Parkour choreography: Wang Haofeng, Bipin Bishwokarma. Taiji instruction: Feng Junli.

Cast: Yan Zhuoling (Lin Hua/Fleur), Cai Hanyi (Qi Liang/Alan), Yang Leman (Dave, BombA leader), Fan Ying’er (Rebecca), Tommy “Guns” Ly (Stormy, Rooftoppers leader), Huang Guanzhong (taiji master at correctional facility), Ye Yunyi [Gloria Yip] (Lin Hua’s mother), Chen Rongzhao (Lin Hua’s father), Lin Shengbin (entertainment news host), Pan Yunfeng (cosplay-event host), Liu Jingwen (Naicha/Milk Tea, BombA member), Huang Liya (Piao/Feather, BombA member), Gu Zhijian (Jianwei/Kenway, BombA member), Lin Yuerong (Xiongmao/Panda, BombA member), Zhu Tianqi (Feitian/Fly, BombA member), Wang Xiancong (Cong, BombA member), Gu Qingyun (Qingyun, BombA member), Su Zilin (Heartgrey, Rooftoppers member), Li Junhua (Ziba/Popper 88, Rooftoppers member), Chen Weicheng (Xicheng/Lil’ Shing Chan, Rooftoppers member), Chen Yongkang (Kang/Hongboy Chan, Rooftoppers member), Lv Jianrong (Maliu/RAmonkey, Rooftoppers member), Lin Shengyuan (Yudan/Fishball, Rooftoppers member), Chen Ruiqi (Qi/Bigki, Rooftoppers member), Wang Haofeng (Feng, Rooftoppers member), Bipin Bishwokarma (Bipin, Rooftoppers member), Xu Zhiyong (Rocka, Rooftoppers member), Chen Rongyu (Potato, Rooftoppers member), Lu Jiahui (See-Through, taiji club member), Pan Junwei (Jinmao/Blondie, taiji club member), Luo Shaobang (Tonghuan/Ringo, taiji club member), Julian Gaertner (Bruce, taiji club member), Tian Hao (club DJ), Huo Jiahao (club MC), Mo Xinglin (old man in beancurd shop), Qiu Zhishan (schoolboy in beancurd shop), Liu Huiying (schoolgirl in beancurd shop), Lai Junxi, Zeng Zihao (twins in beancurd shop), Chen Nina (twins’ mother), Tan Tianbao (cousin Benny’s mother), Fang Shaocong (cousin Benny), Liu Ziliang (O’camp host), Huang Xingguo (university security guard), Mai Qiucheng (university freshman), Huang Xiuping [Adam Wong] (barman).

Premiere: Hong Kong Film Festival (I See It My Way), 31 Mar 2013.

Release: Hong Kong, 8 Aug 2013.

(Review originally published on Film Business Asia, 5 Jan 2014.)