Quick, Quick, Slow -- Film Review

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SHANGHAI, China -- A charming middle-aged cast floors viewers in this hearty, feel-good comedy which demonstrates that age is no barrier for a group of amateur dancers to live life to the full. First-timer Ye Kai's jazzes up the "Shall We Dance" formula with topical instant fame legends of such shows as "America's Got Talent," then anchors it in a genuine mainland Chinese social context, making "Quick, Quick, Slow" meaningful family fare for Asian-themed TV and festivals.

If figures quoted at film's end are anything to go by, about 100 million Chinese in their 50's or above keep fit by dancing in parks. Clever publicity aimed at this demographic can have some of them fox trotting their way to the cinema.

The film is set in a non-descript neighborhood in Shanghai during the run-up to the Beijing Olympics. "Fame, wealth, losing weight" becomes just some of the perks motivating a motley crew of seniors to enter a dance contest allegedly affiliated with the Games' official events. By a twist of fate, they achieve nationwide fame, but not in the way they expected.

Amidst the comical audition scenes, outlandish training sessions and personality clashes that are par for the course in this genre, a tender yet admirably understated relationship blossoms between married security guard Zhou Jianguo (Yao Anlian) and retired professional dancer Lin Yaqin (Gu Yan, gentle and elegant).

Both discover dance is a confidence booster that helps them cope with problems with his livelihood and in her marriage. Yao (modifying his stiff patriarchal image in "Shanghai Dreams") and Gu (gentle and elegant) navigate unspoken yearnings in a platonic friendship without a single misstep in their performance.

Elsewhere, Ye mines the demonstrative mannerisms of his theater-trained actors for clownish effect especially dance instructor Cai's (Cai Haosheng) kungfu-like lurches and baboon-like facial expressions. The music, dance numbers, dialogue and overall tone are brassy but coupled with the film's fly-by shots of Shanghai neighborhoods, brim over with local color.

First half of the narrative's is brazenly farcical and the second half unabashedly sentimental. Yet, the characters' joie de vivre is infectious, making the predictable finale totally uplifting. The dance troupe leader Lao Wu's project to shoot their whole experience and put it on YouTube for his son in America is a particularly upbeat way of representing seniors who keep up with trends.

The main plot is interspersed with interviews with people in their 50's recalling experiences of being sent down to toil in rural collectives during the Cultural Revolution. The hardships endured by this resilient generation offer a poignant historical dimension that suggests why the fictional characters throw themselves into their past-times, as if to make up for their squandered youth.

Venue: Shanghai International Film Festival
Cast: Yao Anlian, Gu Yan, Weng Guojun, Cai Haosheng, Yang Wenfang
Director: Ye Kai
Screenwriter: Qi Ge
Producer: Zhang Lanxin
Director of photography: Ren Yuxing
Art director: Lou Zhongguo
Music: Wu Jie
Costume designer: Dong Guiying
Editor: Fang Yaxi
Sales: DFM Films Shanghai Ltd
No rating, 82 minutes