The Way We Dance (Kwong Mo Paai): Film Review
Adam Wong’s low-budget feature about the rise and fall and rise again of a university street dance crew also doubles as a romantic drama about a rookie recruit, her posse’s leader and a Tai Chi-practising eccentric.
The title says it all: Adam Wong’s film about aspiring young dancers is high on illustrating their athletic and dexterous moves, but very much wanting in providing a refreshing or substantial narrative and full-fledged characters -- even though Hong Kong’s street-dance enthusiasts and performers might certainly embrace The Way We Dance as proof of Hong Kong’s standing as buzzing with homegrown talent which could rival that seen in the Step Up or Streetdance franchises.
Not that The Way We Dance is going to make a breakthrough beyond Chinese-language territories anytime soon, other than an odd stop in the film-festival circuit (the film featured at Taipei and Edinburgh during the summer) -- and it appears this hasn’t been much of a concern for Wong, a veteran in Hong Kong’s indie film scene with whimsical teen-romances such as When Beckham Met Owen and Magic Boy.
The director and his producers have fashioned the film’s earthliness as its pioneering merit, equating the watching of the film with support of Hong Kong cinema -- a line of thought articulated in a fourth-wall-breaking opening voiceover by the film’s central character. It’s certainly a risky approach (for this particular film and for the industry in general) in securing audience goodwill -- and sadly the film flounders with protagonists becoming mostly ciphers who also happen to be able to hit cracking moves on the floor.
Differing from its original Chinese title (“Kwong Mo Paai” can be loosely translated as “Manic Dancing Posse”), the film’s English title rings very similar to The Way We Are, Ann Hui’s 2008 movie which, despite (or maybe because of) its low budget, offered a nuanced and moving chronicle of ordinary lives being led in a working-class suburb in Hong Kong -- without resorting to the contrived use of cultural iconography parading as local identity. But that’s what The Way We Dance does from the very beginning: its protagonist, Fleur (Cherry Ngan), is shown in the milieu of her family’s traditional tofu shop, surrounded by quirky local characters (lonely old men, eccentric singletons and so on) and of course her dialect-speaking parents.
Not that this backdrop figures that much beyond its use as a visual gag: Fleur swiftly announces she’s off to college and her family, neighbors and roots will soon be largely forgotten in the remainder of the film. This deployment of cultural-clash devices is again seen as Fleur, who left her university street-dance troupe after a falling-out with its diva, takes up Tai Chi to get new inspirations for her thoroughly Western-oriented art. Barring her first well-choreographed skirmishes with the martial arts club leader Alan (Babyjohn Choi) -- with whom Fleur inevitably will fall in love -- Tai Chi soon recedes into the background and re-appears as caricature.
By treading lightly on some of the more hard-to-handle real-life issues the characters might have to face -- Fleur never has to spar with her family; her nemesis Rebecca’s ego-fuelled trek in pursuit of fame in her media-saturated universe only scratches the surface of a very deep-seated problem -- The Way We Dance actually keeps running on its abundance of joyous energy and vibrancy with matching music and camerawork. It’s a fortunate upside sprouting from its flaws.
And so it is that the characters offer what they see as revolutionary rhetoric, that they are willing to go to extremes for their ideals – but if only The Way We Dance offered characters really transgressing conservative social taboos or making shattering sacrifices in order to make themselves (and the world) a better place.
The presence of Tommy “Guns” Ly (the leader of the dance collective The Rooftoppers) talking about his tribulations of dancing with a prosthetic leg, and the underdeveloped rite-of-passage for delinquent-turned-Tai-Chi-artist Alan, are probably the closest Wong would elect to acknowledge real problems faced by real people in a world which is quickly caving in on itself.
The film is a entertaining spectacle, no less, but it also inadvertently raises a lot of questions -- about how Fleur and her mates are to counter cultural differences in breaking into the mainstream, maybe – questions it doesn't really bother to answer. Indeed, Wong has revealed to viewers the way the characters danced: the more pressing question which could improve the picture is to ask why.
Production Companies: Eye Front Pictures, Golden Scene
Cast: Cherry Ngan, Babyjohn Choi, Lokman Yeung, Tommy “Guns” Ly, Paul Wong
Director: Adam Wong
Screenwriters: Adam Wong, Saville Chan, Chan Tai-lei
Producers: Roddy Wong, Saville Chan
Executive Producer: Winnie Tsang
Director of photography: Cheng Siu-keung
Music: Day Tai, Afuc Chan
Dance Choreographer: Sing Mak
Editors: Adam Wong, Kevin Chan
Production designer: Ahong Cheung
International Sales: Golden Scene
In Cantonese and English
Running time 110 minutes