Hong Kong, 2011, colour, 2.35:1, 98 mins.
Director: Deng Dongming 邓东明 [Tony Tang].
Larky Hong Kong summer movie centred on women’s beach volleyball only partly delivers.
Beilang [Pui Long] bay, Hong Kong, the present day. Cousins Sharon (Zhou Xiuna) and Rachel (Fu Ying) live with their uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. Dao (Luo Mang, Yang Panpan), who run a beachside restaurant and have schooled them in martial arts. The two girls’ real passion, however, is beach volleyball. One night, during a misunderstanding involving the father (Lin Xue) of Rachel’s boyfriend Shui (Lin Zishan), Sharon meets Tim Brewster (Luo Zhongqian), the Chinese-American son of Mrs. Brewster (Yu An’an). The Brewster family, which also includes Tim’s two athletic sisters, Natalie (Jessica C) and Natasha (Zhou Fenghuang), is the wealthiest in the area and lives in a gated enclosure above the beach. One day, Tim Brewster rescues Sharon from drowning and she invites him to a beach party, where they get to know each other. Meanwhile, Mrs. Brewster is going ahead with her late husband’s dream of constructing the 30 million square metre Paradise Resort, which will involve everyone moving from Beilang bay. The local villagers demonstrate outside the Brewsters’ estate, and Sharon and Rachel challenge Natalie and Natasha to a beach volleyball match, which the latter win. Later, the Daos visit Mrs. Brewster, who agrees to the matter being settled by whoever wins the forthcoming 2011 Hong Kong Beach Volleyball Tournament. In the meantime, Tim Brewster, annoyed at his family’s attitude and in love with Sharon, has moved out to work at her uncle and aunt’s beach restaurant. All four girls train rigorously for the tournament – Sharon and Rachel learning Chinese techniques from their uncle, and Natalie and Natasha western boxing techniques from their trainer (Wu Yunlong). Both teams get through to the semi-finals, but then Sharon is injured in a fight started one day by Natasha.
As a typical Hong Kong summer film, with lots of swimwear, a smatter of romance, and plenty of larking around on the beach, Beach Spike 热浪球爱战 pretty much delivers. The genre’s bar is not very high in the first place, but direction by established animator Deng Dongming 邓东明 [Tony Tang] (Little Gobie 3D 反斗高比3D, 2010) and widescreen photography by Chen Zhiying 陈志英 (Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame 狄仁杰之通天帝国, 2010) both look smooth and professional. The movie’s babe quotient is okay without being hey-wow, and the script, too, is no more or less formulaic than any other summer beach movie (east or west), with local jokes, bluff familiar stereotypes and a storyline a gnat could memorise.
Where Beach Spike doesn’t deliver is in melding sun, fun and buns into a package that also melds sports and martial arts in a way similar to Shaolin Soccer 少林足球 (2001). In fact, the beach volleyball sequences are the most disappointing parts of the film: there’s not much tension or excitement on a simple gut level, and very little cross-pollination of techniques until a half-hearted attempt at the end. Underlying the poor-vs.-rich storyline is also a mild East-vs.-West subtext – the two local goodies study Chinese martial arts techniques, while the Chinese-American bitches study boxing – but it’s hardly raised to a visible level or made into a nationalistic statement along the lines of Ip Man 2 叶问2 (2010).
The best performances come from the supporting cast of veterans: onetime Shaw Bros. pin-up Yu An’an 余安安 [Candice Yu] is rather good as the bad girls’ sympathetic mother, while veteran action figures Yang Panpan 杨盼盼 [Sharon Yeung] and Luo Mang 罗莽 make a genial, quarrelsome couple who can still throw a roundhouse kick. (Yang is also credited with planning the handful of fight sequences, which are mostly light and comic.) It’s the younger headline cast, on whose slim sex-appeal the movie is marketed, who make the least impression. Hong Kong-based pseudo-model Zhou Xiuna 周秀娜 [Chrissie Chau] (Vampire Warriors 僵尸新战士, 2010) is bland in the lead role of Sharon, and Luo Zhongqian 罗仲谦 (Love Is the Only Answer 人约离婚后, 2011) even blander as her cross-tracks boyfriend. On the baddie side, Filipino-Chinese-American model Jessica C makes an awkward film debut, and Chinese-American Zhou Fenghuang 周凤凰 is relegated to a snarling role after her so-so launch as an action star in The Blood Bond (2010, aka Shadowguard). The only one to make much impression is the animated Fu Ying 傅颖 (Martial Spirit 武动青春, 2010), as Sharon’s cousin and volleyball partner.
The Chinese title literally means “Hot Wave Balls Love War”.
Presented by Goodman Bond International (HK), C&M Film Workshop (HK), T-Films (HK). Produced by BS Films Production (HK).
Script: Liang Wangfeng, Deng Dongming, Chen Bainian. Original story: Huang Yongfeng. Photography: Chen Zhiying. Editing: Qiu Zhiwei [Yau Chi-wai]. Music: Noel Quinlan, La Ying. Theme song: La Ying, Liang Baijian. Singers: Zhou Xiuna [Chrissie Chau], Octobeez. Art direction: Liu Changru. Costume design: Zhou Tingting. Sound: Liang Zhida, Lin Shaoru. Action: Yang Panpan [Sharon Yeung], Ye Yongjian, Zhang Wenjie. Visual effects: Deng Dongming. Vollyball training: Lin Zhenguo.
Cast: Zhou Xiuna [Chrissie Chau] (Sharon), Fu Ying (Rachel/B), Jessica C [Jessica Cambensy] (Natalie Brewster), Zhou Fenghuang [Hannah Nicole Chou/Phoenix Chou] (Natasha Brewster), Luo Zhongqian (Tim Brewster), Lin Zishan (Shui/Walter, Rachel’s boyfriend), Yu An’an [Candice Yu] (Mrs. Brewster), Lin Xue [Lam Suet] (Shui’s father), Luo Mang (Dao, Sharon’s uncle), Yang Panpan [Sharon Yeung] (Dao’s wife), Wu Yunlong [Philip Ng] (Brewster girls’ trainer), Lu Songzhi (companion of Shui’s father), La Ying (Xing/Monkey), Zhang Wenjie (German, assistant trainer), Lin Shengbin (match MC), Chen Jingyi, Yuan Junjie, He Haowen, Yang Shangbin, Pei Yan, He Peiyu, Wang Lijia, Yu Xiaotong, Xu Xisu, Simon Watkiss, Craig Miller.
Release: Hong Kong, 7 Jul 2011.
(Review originally published on Film Business Asia, 23 Sep 2011.)