Tuesday, October 10, 2017

City of Rock

I mention it a bit in the review, but I find it kind of interesting that Well Go USA is the label distributing City of Rock in North America, because they seem a bit more focused on the general audience than the likes of China Lion, Magnum/Chopflix, and Cheng Cheng, which tend to target the Chinese emigrant/expatriate audience and consider any tickets purchased by the likes of me a windfall. It's not specifically Chinese in some ways - you can transplant the basic story anywhere and it would still work - but there are a bunch of unsubtitled songs and cameos that I suspect relatively few of us outside the Mandarin-speaking audience will get.

One of the things that struck me about the trailer when I saw it was that it played up the potentially-gay stuff a fair amount - Hu Liang dropping double entendres about sleeping in the same bed as Cheng Gong, what seemed like a reference to the hair-metal band that put the "City of Rock" on the map "coming out", and that latter part doesn't get mentioned in the film (and, to be fair, it seemed like a weird edit as much as something organic) while I'm kind of curious what people make of Hu Liang - it certainly seems like Da Peng plays him gay, and they don't pair him off with anybody at the end, although I was kind of under the impression that this was a no-no in Chinese film, so maybe it's some Celluloid Closet stuff.

Also worth noting: I got an email from someone asking where I saw Da Peng's first film, Jian Bing Man, a few weeks ago, which was kind of random, but I'm kind of surprised to see that, despite having come out theatrically in 2015, it's pretty darn impossible to watch - it didn't get a physical media release anywhere, and it's not streaming on any service that I can find. You would think, what with Well Go promoting City of Rock as Da Peng's follow-up to Jian Bing Man, they might have scooped up those rights and put it on their Amazon channel at the very least, but apparently not.

That, by the way, is nuts - how can a movie that was released in American theaters a mere two years ago just have so completely fallen off the map? Sure, maybe it's streaming on Chinese services, but, dang, I didn't think I'd be able to use "you might not get another chance to see it in the near future" as a reason to see new releases, even niche ones, in theaters with so many other options available these days!

Feng Ren Ji Yue Dui (City of Rock)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 9 October 2017 in AMC Boston Common #15 (first-run, DCP)

As enjoyably goofy as I found Chengpeng "Da Peng" Dong's first film (Jian Bing Man, aka "Pancake Man"), it didn't quite prepare me for how charmingly silly and sweet City of Rock would be. It's the most familiar rock & roll movie plot ever (mismatched band has to put on a show to save their inspiration from a greedy developer), but the jokes are good, the music is catchy, and the cast is awfully easy to like. You don't necessarily need to innovate if you do all that well.

The city in question is Ji'an, described as a border town in the northeastern part of China, where the hard-rocking band "Broken Guitar" burst upon the scene twenty years ago, inspiring not just seven-year-old Hu Liang but leading the city to rename its public square the Park of Rock and erect a Grand Guitar monument. Now, though, the Park of Rock is threatened as developer Ding Wei (Wang Jinsong) looks to turn it into a theme park, so Liang (Qiao Shan) cold-calls Beijing talent manager Cheng Gong (Da Peng), offering 500,000 yuan to help mount a show to save the park. When Gong gets there, though, he finds out that Liang has neither money nor band, and the scramble to form one yields ten-year-old keyboard player Qiao Meixi (Qu Junxi), who has to sneak out to practice because her mother is strict and intimidating; Taiwanese drummer Explosive (Li Hongqi), who came to Ji'an to find the tattoo artist he fell in love with at first sight; bassist Ding Jingquo (Coulee Na Zha), looking for a distraction since she's just broken up with her boyfriend and broken her leg; and Yang Shuangshu (Han Tongsheng), an elderly gynecologist who was Broken Guitar's original guitarist but had a fall on-stage and left the band before they hit it big.

It's a measure of how effective things are that non-Mandarin speakers in the audience should be able to thoroughly enjoy it despite the fact that something like a third of it will blow right past them, as the songs were not subtitled in English and the end credits reveal a ton of cameos by Chinese rockers (just about every character who only popped up in one scene). In some ways, this works better than expected; subtitling a song often leads to awkwardly translated rhymes that take up more of the viewer's attention than they're supposed to; the only time the lyrics are truly necessary to a joke they got a line of dialogue, and none of the cameos stopped the movie for a look-at-this reaction. I doubt Da Peng was particularly trying to make it accessible to non-Chinese audiences, but the fact that it worked and is even being distributed by a label that targets a broader audience indicates just how well everything else works, even if you can't spot the reference.

Full review on EFC.

No comments: