China, 2010, colour, 1.85:1, 100 mins.
Director: Kong Lingchen 孔令晨.
China’s first parkour movie is more about the hero’s relationship with his mum than the sport itself.
Beijing, the present day. Parkour-mad He Zhipeng (Sheng Chao), 19, lives in a traditional courtyard house in Dongbiao hutong with his mother, laundry worker Luo Sufang (Lv Liping), and grandmother Bai Shuzhen (Li Bin), onetime member of Tianqiao Acrobatic Theatre. A member of parkour team City Monkeys, He Zhipeng has been neglecting his studies for his forthcoming university entrance exams, much to the distress of his mother, who walked out on her husband 10 years ago and has been struggling to raise her son on her own ever since. When she’s laid off at work, and then forbids He Zhipeng to do any more parkour till he passes his exams, mother and son clash.
From its sparky main titles, showing the teenage hero leaping over hutong walls, City Monkey 玩酷青春 promises to be a rappy parkour youth movie, Beijing style. But though there are plenty of short sequences showing him and his pals bouncing around the city and its back alleys, plus some rap by Mongolian pop singer Gongge’er 龚格尔 (China’s “Fat Michael Jackson”), the script is more concerned with him neglecting the school studies on which his hard-working mother places so much importance for his future. The film doesn’t become a doctrinaire lecture on education vs. fun – in fact, the kids’ activities are treated sympathetically – but, without any subplot of them training to take part in some competition or other, there’s a lack of dramatic tension throughout the film and of any clear forward pulse.
City Monkey is, however, still a likeable movie, largely thanks to its performances and the fact it never takes itself too seriously. Big-screen newcomer Sheng Chao 盛超 (from TV) makes an easy-going hero, with no tiresome teenage blues, and veteran actress Li Bin 李滨 almost steals the show as the sarcastic grandmother who secretly supports his obsession. (Her contribution to the closing titles is especially memorable.) The well-known Lv Liping 吕丽萍 seems a bit miscast as the uneducated, devoted mother with a strong stubborn streak, and seems more natural in her scenes with older cast members like Li and, as her son’s father, Guo Tao 郭涛. Kong Lingchen 孔令晨, a Beijing-born film-maker in his late 30s, delivers a relaxedly paced film, paragraphed with attractive tableaux of Beijing street/trafficscapes.
[The film’s original title literally means “Play Cool Youth”, with a slight pun on the Chinese term for parkour.]
Presented by PanAsia Communications (CN). Produced by PanAsia Communications (CN).
Script: Yuan Ye. Adaptation: Tan Chen, Kong Lingchen. Photography: Lu Sheng. Editing: Wei Nan, Kong Lingchen, Zhao Gaowei. Music: An Wei, Gongge’er. Art direction: Wang Zhigang. Costumes: Zhang Wei. Sound: Zhao Bo. Action: Gouzi. Special effects: A Donglin. Executive director: Mu Mu.
Cast: Lv Liping (Luo Sufang, mother), Guo Tao (He Youqing, father), Sheng Chao (He Zhipeng, son), Li Bin (Bai Shuzhen, grandmother), Yu Ailei (Fang Liangsheng, tenant), Sun Qiang (commercials director), Dazhongkuangjiang (Sato), He Yunwei (rubbish collector), Tan Chen (Cui Yanli, head teacher), Han Qing (Meng Jinlin), Wei Zixin (Liu Jingchao), Yuan Jun (Xu Yan, He Zhipeng’s girlfriend), Tu Ling (female colleague), Guo Shuai (Xu Jiaqi), Yan Weisha (Xu Jiaqi’s girlfriend), Li Jun (Cun Shan), Tao Hui (female manager), Zhu Zhu (plaintiff’s lawyer), Kong Xinfang (Xu Yan’s mother), Yang Yang (judge), Zhu Di (bailiff), Yu Xinning (secretary), Ma Hongmei (lawyer’s assistant), Zhang Jinyi (Fat Q), Zhao Tong (Xiaoshu), Sun Jie (Da Sheng), Wang Yanmin (Yanmin), Shi Zhanlong (Zhanlong), Tu Fenghao (Fengzi), Chen He (Chen He), Kou Ming (Huazai), Zhou Jing (teacher), Mu Mu (commercials assistant director), Liu Jing (commercials producer), Zhao Le (commercials cameraman), Yu Miao (sales staff), Jiang Feidie (secretary).
Premiere: Shanghai Film Festival (View China), 14 Jun 2010.
Release: China, 10 Sep 2010.
(Review originally published on Film Business Asia, 17 Jun 2010.)