The Drummer

Bottom Line: Action and spirituality blend into a genuine crowd-pleaser.

Sundance Film Festival

PARK CITY -- Jaycee Chan, the son of Jackie Chan, might turn out to be a chip off the old block. In "The Drummer," he doesn't try to imitate his father's martial arts moves but demonstrates plenty of movie star charisma in his own right.

It's fitting that the film is in part a story about a rebellious young man trying to carve out his own identity in the shadow of an overbearing father. This Sundance premiere, competing in the world cinema dramatic section, might not have the art film cachet of other movies in the category, but it's a most entertaining ride with audience appeal well beyond the festival circuit.

Sid (Chan) is the hedonistic playboy son of Kwan (veteran actor Tony Leung Ka Fai), a Hong Kong crime boss. With cheeky insolence, Sid seduces the mistress of his father's gangland rival, Stephen Ma (Kenneth Tsang). Stephen is furious and demands that the boy be punished. To get him out of harm's way, Kwan ships Sid to a remote mountainous region of Taiwan. There, Sid encounters a group of Zen drummers and decides to join their troupe. He undergoes a spiritual and romantic awakening (courtesy of a fellow drummer, played by the fetching Lee Sinje), though of course he eventually will have to return to Hong Kong and settle scores with the criminals.

The film is an odd hybrid of violent action picture and earnest spiritual odyssey, but somehow it all works. This is partly because of the skill of writer-director Kenneth Bi, who brings ferocious energy to the action scenes and sensitivity to the interactions of the drummers, played by U Theatre, a well-known group of Taiwan artists. Scenes in which the Zen masters discipline the headstrong Sid have considerable charm. The script has enough twists and turns to keep us engaged, and the casting is superb.

It's hard to imagine the film without Chan in the lead. A bundle of energy and youthful impudence, he has a face that the camera loves, and he manages to be equally convincing in his gangster and tranquil Zen modes. Leung brings the right sense of danger to his role, and there are strong supporting turns by Sinje, Josie Ho as Sid's feisty sister and Roy Cheung as a solicitous bodyguard who is not quite what he appears to be.

Besides the great cast, the film boasts first-rate technical credits. Sam Koa's photography of the Taiwanese countryside is spectacular, and the urban scenes are sharply edited by Bi and Isabel Meier. The musical interludes also register effectively. You don't have to take the movie's spiritual message seriously to enjoy "Drummer." This is a true guilty pleasure that will tickle audiences all over the world.

Emperor Motion Pictures (Hong Kong)
Kenbiroli Films, Twenty Twenty Vision Filmproduktion
Director-screenwriter: Kenneth Bi
Producers: Rosa Li, Peggy Chiao, Thanassis Karathanos
Executive producers: Albert Yeung, William Fu
Director of photography: Sam Koa
Production designer: Alex Mok Siu Chung
Music: Andre Matthias
Co-producer: Albert Lee
Costume designer: Cindy Cheung
Editors: Isabel Meier, Kenneth Bi
Sid: Jaycee Chan
Kwan: Tony Leung Ka Fai
Hong Dou: Lee Sinje
Ah Chiu: Roy Cheung
Sina: Josie Ho
Stephen Ma: Kenneth Tsang
Lan Jie: Liu Ruo-Yu
Running time -- 116 minutes
No MPAA rating