Hong Kong/China, 2012, colour, 2.35:1, 101 mins.
Director: Mai Xiyin 麦曦茵 [Heiward Mak].
Good-looking but superficial showbiz tale of fame and personal insecurity.
Hong Kong, the present day. Ten years ago, music industry executive Wen Jianxin (Du Wenze) took wannabe singer Yan Jingyi (Rong Zu’er) under his wing and built her into a modern diva, now giving sold-out concerts at Hong Kong’s Coliseum. Wen Jianxin wants to expand Yan Jingyi’s career into film, by setting her up with a Beijing-based director (Zou Kaiguang), but she is uninterested. While Wen Jianxin is in Beijing, Yan Jingyi loses her voice and freezes at a concert; afterwards, she disappears on a holiday in Guangdong province, China, where she meets a blind masseur, Hu Ming (He Ge), for whom she falls. Yan Jingyi starts to distance herself from Wen Jianxin, who becomes interested in a young singer, Hong Hong (Lin Xintong), who is singing in clubs. Hong Hong’s burgeoning career is putting a strain on her relationship with her boyfriend, Le (Chen Jiale), and is not helped when a record producer (Zheng Sijie) tries to seduce her in his studio one night. When Yan Jingyi returns from her break in China, she publically supports Hong Hong; but the career pressures continue to mount on her.
Produced by the film division of her own management company, Diva 华丽之后 is a vehicle for Hong Kong singer-actress Rong Zu’er 容祖儿 [Joey Yung] in which she’s the least interesting thing. The tomboyish Rong, 32, is only an occasional film actress, and can be okay in fluffy parts, like the female bandit in costume comedy The Jade and the Pearl 翡翠明珠 (2010), but she’s never been called upon to carry a picture. Though top-billed in Diva, she’s done few favours by the script of writer-director Mai Xiyin 麦曦茵 [Heiward Mak], which puts her in a role with several echoes of her own career (her character is even called J) and then proceeds to sideline her as a played-out diva for whom the stresses of fame and career are just too much, especially when her manager starts grooming a younger talent.
Despite all that, it could still have been a meaty dramatic role. But Mai’s screenplay doesn’t develop into (a) a good old bitchfest between J and her younger “rival”; (b) a dramatically trenchant look at J’s reassessment of her life, or (c) an enjoyably over-the-top look at the sleazier sides of the Hong Kong music industry (unlikely, given the production company). In fact, after a promising start, it doesn’t develop into much at all, as Rong isn’t a strong enough actress or screen presence to really dominate the picture and the focus starts drifting here and there between various cliched characters. Thanks to the performance of Du Wenze 杜汶泽 [Chapman To] as J’s oily manager, and some lushly saturated interior photography by d.p. Ye Shaoqi 叶绍麒 (Leaving in Sorrow 忧忧愁愁的走了, 2002), Diva remains watchable as a superficial showbiz yarn but no more.
Rising Cantopop star Lin Xintong 林欣彤, who was OK as the family’s wannabe-model daughter in last year’s I Love Hong Kong 我♡HK 开心万岁 (2011), is also OK here. Lin doesn’t show any special screen appeal, but she gets to perform three songs (more than Rong) and is well cast as J’s unthreatening “rival”, still trying to balance a career and private life. Shanghai singer-actor Hu Ge 胡歌, mostly known for TV drama, is also OK as a blind masseur for whom J falls on a romantic break in southern China, though the whole relationship is cornily drawn. The rest of the cast is speckled with Hong Kong names, including director Zheng Sijie 郑思杰 [Clement Cheng] (Gallants 打擂台, 2010) as a horny record producer, Liu Haolong 刘浩龙 [Wilfred Lau] as a jokey driver, veteran Hui Yinghong 惠英红 [Kara Hui] as a nightclub owner, and singer-actress Xue Kaiqi 薛凯琪 [Fiona Sit] in a cameo as a rival of J.
Diva is the most mainstream of Mai’s three features to date, and in its more documentary-like sections of backstage activity has a verismo feel. But it’s a big step back from her second movie, Ex 前度 (2010), which had started to justify some of the hype heaped on the 28-year-old Hong Kong writer-director by local media. The film’s Chinese title roughly means “When the Glamour Is Over”.
Presented by Emperor Film Production (HK), Zhujiang Film & Media (CN). Produced by Emperor Film Production (HK).
Script: Mai Xiyin [Heiward Mak]. Photography: Ye Shaoqi. Editing: Li Qianming, Wan Peiqi. Music: Lin Erwen, Li Ruixian. Art direction: Zhang Zhaokang. Sound: Guo Zhiwen.
Cast: Rong Zu’er [Joey Yung] (Yan Jingyi/J), Hu Ge (Hu Ming), Du Wenze [Chapman To] (Wen Jianxin), Lin Xintong (Hong Hong/Red), Liu Haolong [Wilfred Lau] (Nan, Yan Jingyi’s driver), Chen Jiale (Le/Rocky, Hong Hong’s boyfriend), Xian Seli (Manli/Angela, Wen Jianxin’s assistant), Xue Kaiqi [Fiona Sit] (Fi), Su Yongkang (Gong, Fi’s fashion designer), Hui Yinghong [Kara Hui] (Dan, nightclub owner), Zou Kaiguang [Matt Chow] (Beijing film director), Zheng Sijie [Clement Cheng] (Manson, record producer), Wang Minyi (Gennie, wannabe singer), Gu Yaqi (Winky, Wen Jianxin’s secretary), Xuan Tianyang (Babyface).
Release: Hong Kong, 16 Aug 2012; China, 16 Aug 2012.
(Review originally published on Film Business Asia, 19 Dec 2012.)