Film Review: Dada's Dance

BOTTOM LINE: Sensuous, indulgent portrait of a charming girl who does what she wants and pays the price with no regrets.

Pusan International Film Festival
Gala presentation

Part female coming-of-age experience and part road movie, Zhang Yuan's "Dada's Dance" is less a film than an adagio that owes its romantic Latino atmosphere a lovely score by Italian composer Andrea Guerra ("Hotel Rwanda," "The Pursuit of Happyness"). Compared to "Little Red Flowers," Zhang's last film that was entertaining yet profoundly allegorical, this is light on substance and almost too pleasant for comfort to art house audiences expecting more intellectual or provocative fare from the former vanguard of China's underground cinema. Zhang's marquee name, however, could still throw weight behind festival invitations and specialist theatrical deals.

Dada (Li Xiaofeng) lives with her loving mother, but the leering glances and lewd come-ons by mom's lover are getting on her nerves. She is more tolerant of a peeping Tom -- neighbor Zhao Ye (Li Xinyun), whose pubescent sexual stirrings she saucily plays along with. When Dada is told she is adopted, she invites Zhao Ye to accompany her in search of her biological mother.

They arrive in a southern suburb as photogenic as a postcard under the expert lens of Zhang's regular cinematographer Zhang Jian. Nothing life-changing happens, but Dada sums up the spirit of her journey (and the film's philosophy): "No matter what, let's have a good time, see the world." Back home, Dada impetuously commits a crime -- a development that is more plot-driven and less spontaneous. The ending, though a bit artificial, recovers the film's earlier joie de vivre.

This is probably one of Zhang's least stormy screen romances. The lovers do not consume each other with their passion or overpowering personalities like in "I Love You" or "Green Tea." Their relationship is innocent and tender, like the affections of a nubile older sister for her gawky but protective younger brother.

In fact, "Dada's Dance" is more of a solo performance than a pas de deux. The camera is infatuated with Li Xiaofeng and she flirts back with sparkling eyes and alluring gait. Dada is a sassy character, a narcissistic tease like Salome. Like the dancer who becomes the dance, it is the composite of both Li's and Dada's personalities that give the film its soul.

Cast: Li Xinyun, Li Xiaofeng, Gai Ge, Chen Jun.
Director-producer: Zhang Yuan.
Screenwriters: Jia Lisha, Li Xiaofeng.
Creative producers: Alex Jia, Wang Yi.
Director of photography: Zhang Jian.
Production designer: Peng Chao.
Music: Andrea Guerra.
Editor: Wu Yixiang, Jacopo Quadri.
Sales agent: Beijing Century Good-Tidings Cultural Development Co.
No rating, 92 minutes.
production: Beijing Century Good-Tidings Cultural Development Co./Beijing Zhang Yuan Cultural Studio Li Xinyun