China/Hong Kong, 2011, colour, 2.35:1, 92 mins.
Directors: Luo Yimin 罗义民 [Norman Law], Han Zhixia 韩之夏 [Han Yan 韩延].
Rote drama of motor-racing rivalries, with performances way above the script.
Guangdong province, China, the present day. At the Thrills-Masters Challenge, held at the Guangdong International Circuit, the racing car team of Ye Haocheng (Dou Xiao) and Wu Jiale (Wang Bojie) manages to beat rival Zhang Weimin by driving him off the track. Afterwards, Ye Haocheng and Wu Jiale are invited to join the trials for a pair of racers to represent China in an international GT (Formula One) race. Among the others taking part is Taiwan champion Lin Sizhe (Shin), whom the cocky Ye Haocheng perpetually goads, and Lin Sizhe’s younger sister, Lin Weitong (Zhang Junning), who’s also a wildlife photographer. The team’s trainer is veteran Yan Jiajun (Zeng Zhiwei), who once expelled Ye Haocheng’s late elder brother Ye Hongcheng from a racing team for insubordination. Despite her brother’s opposition, Lin Weitong starts dating Ye Haocheng. But during the trials, Ye Haocheng’s competitiveness and refusal to listen to his trainer cause two accidents that have major consequences on his future.
Beating Speed Angels 极速天使 (2011) on to the screen by some three weeks, but sinking without trace at the Mainland box office, China’s first motor-racing drama, Racer Legend 赛车传奇, is notable largely for an okay cast managing to deliver their lines with straight faces and a modicum of conviction. The Guangdong-set story of love and rivalry among racing drivers is scarcely believable at any level and lacks the trashy-fun elements which made Speed Angels (its female equivalent) such painless entertainment. It also has little human drama, few on-track thrills (apart from the CG-aided finale), and a plot and dialogue that seems to have been generated by a computer.
Despite all that, the performances themselves are okay at a professional level. Mainland-born, Canadian-raised Dou Xiao 窦骁 [Shawn Dou] (Under the Hawthorn Tree 山楂树之恋, 2010) acquits himself just fine as the cocky young rebel who learns to face his demons. But Dou’s clean-looking, youthful charisma is more than matched by that of the more rugged, 41-year-old Taiwan rock star Xin 信 [Shin], in his first sizeable big-screen role, as his main rival. Two other Taiwan actors, Wang Bojie 王柏杰 and Zhang Junning 张钧宁, are serviceable in best-friend and girlfriend roles, while Hong Kong veteran Zeng Zhiwei 曾志伟 [Eric Tsang] (also one of the producers) clocks in as the racers’ eccentric, blond-haired trainer.
Despite being largely Mainland-funded, Racer Legend, like Speed Angels, has a sizeable number of Hong Kongers among the crew. Technical credits are solid without being notable, including the widescreen photography by d.p. Wu Wenzheng 吴文拯.
In his first film as a director, Luo Yimin 罗义民 [Norman Law] is the son of veteran action/car stunt director Luo Lixian 罗礼贤 [Bruce Law], who’s credited with the racing scenes. His co-director, Han Zhixia 韓之夏, is a pseudonym for 28-year-old Mainland director Han Yan 韩延 (who co-wrote the script with four other Mainlanders). Following his unreleased abortion drama The Tropic of Cancer 摊开你的地图 (2008), and the pseudonymous Racer Legend, Han recently bounced back under his own name with meet-cute genre-bender First Time 第一次 (2012).
Presented by China Film (CN), Houge Media (CN), Black and White Films (HK), Beijing Mei Huanjing Cultural Communication (CN), MDXR (Beijing) Culture & Media Company (CN).
Script: Han Yan, Han Bing, Church Workshop (Tian Yusheng, Shi Chenyun, Feng Xinyao). Photography: Wu Wenzheng. Editing: Huang Jingfu [Wong Ching-po], Chen Qihe [Chan Ki-hop]. Music: Charley. Art direction: Yu Xinghua. Costumes: Cai Yanwen. Sound: Zhu Yanfeng, Ding Jiandong. Action: Luo Lixian [Bruce Law], Huang Wei. Visual effects: Pixomondo, Naga Prime Film Tech Company, Pangon Digital. Racing advice: Yang Weixiong. Associate direction: Wu Wenzheng.
Cast: Dou Xiao [Shawn Dou] (Ye Haocheng), Zhang Junning (Lin Weitong), Wang Bojie (Wu Jiale, Ye Haocheng’s racing partner), Shin (Lin Sizhe, Lin Weitong’s elder brother), Zeng Zhiwei [Eric Tsang] (Yan Jiajun, trainer), Zhang Xiyun (Xiao’ai, Wu Jiale’s girlfriend), He Gang (Ye Hongcheng, Ye Haocheng’s elder brother), Lin Zicong (car team leader), Qin Liming (Sun Weiming, team manager), Mi Xue (Wu Jiale’s mother), Wang Gang (Wu Jiale’s father) Li Xinyue (reporter), Li Guozhong (Liang), He Zhaoxian (young Wu Jiale), Lin Yuqian (young Ye Haocheng), Ma Hanyi, Liu Yingchun (doctors).
Release: China, 2 Dec 2011; Hong Kong, tba.
(Review originally published on Film Business Asia, 14 Jun 2012.)