Reel Asian Spring Showcase Hong Kong Spirit: THE WAY WE DANCE film review

Jessie Lau, Reel Asian Richmond Hill Captain and all-around awesome person, takes over the blog to review THE WAY WE DANCE (screening at AGO Jackman Hall on May 16 at 7pm)

I spent three hours watching the 33rd Hong Kong Film Awards so you don’t have to, and I’m here to tell you three things you need to know. The first, which you might have already heard, Wong Kar-Wai’s The Grandmaster (unsurprisingly) became the biggest winner with 12 awards. The second interesting thing was the ceremony’s celebration of first-time filmmakers in its opening — there were 14 new directors in 2013. The third and the most awesome thing was The Way We Dance, a low-budget production that was partly funded by the government’s Film Development Fund that left with the second-most awards, and it couldn’t be a more different film than The Grandmaster. This youthful and energetic dance film that features emerging Hong Kong talent did not receive much attention when it was first released in Hong Kong last August. Since dance film is not a popular genre in Hong Kong, and there was no established actors in the cast, it was a tough sale. But the passionate The Way We Dance impressed those who gave it a chance, soon the positive reviews of the film began to circulate online and offline, and the film picked up after a few weeks through word of mouth promotion. It was remarkable because it was unlike anything that came out of Hong Kong in awhile, Twitch Film’s James Marsh called it “a breath of fresh air in a local industry all-too-reliant on lazily-assembled star vehicles and overly-similar crime and martial arts dramas”.

The narrative that ties the elaborate dance sequences in The Way We Dance involves dance crew rivalries, a love rectangle, chasing dreams, and pushing limits, as the film repeatedly asks, “How far are you willing to go for dance?” The film follows Fleur (Cherry Ngan), who dreams of street dancing while working at her family’s tofu shop, and finally gets a chance to do so when she joins the school’s dance crew, BombA. With her unique moves, she quickly becomes the new star of the crew and was considered their ticket to win the next dance competition against rivals Rooftoppers, led by Stormy (played by Chinese Vietnamese American dancer Tommy “Guns” Ly). The quirky Fa crosses path with the corny and Tai Chi-practicing Alex (Baby John Choi), who immediately takes a liking to her and uncovers her potential for the Chinese martial art. When Fleur leaves BombA after being teased about her crab-like dance moves, she joins Alex’s Tai Chi club, and finds a way to combine the elements of Tai Chi with hip hop dancing.

The Way We Dance was conceptualized five years ago when director Adam Wong and producer Saville Chan encountered a group of street dancers outside the 7-11 at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, who were dancing on the streets because they no longer had access to the dance studio at school to practice. The film took some time to finish because of the challenge in securing an investor (distributor Golden Scene saved the day) and putting together the best dancers for the film — lead actress Cherry Ngan auditioned when she was 16 (but she lied and told them she was 17), she did not get a callback until 2 years later, and was selected out of more than 500 auditions. Ngan has also appeared in Floating City and Tales from the Dark Part 1, both films that screened at Reel Asian in 2012 and 2013. And Ngan’s performance in The Way We Dance was a star-making role — at 19 years old, her role as Fleur earned her nominations for Best Actress at the HKFA as well as the Taipei Golden Horse Awards. The film won 3 awards at the HKFA: Best New Director for Adam Wong, Best New Performer for Baby John Choi (whose comedic talent was noted by Chow Yun Fat, calling him the next Stephen Chow), and Best Original Film Song, performed by local rapper DoughBoy and the 21-years-old newcomer Shimica Wong.

The Way We Dance is a sincere effort from the filmmakers, financiers, and talent who all believed in the film despite going against the industry trend by using new actors and not going 3D. The team stood by their film despite everything they had against them, their hard-earned recognition is well-deserved. The Way We Dance successfully brought something fresh to the Hong Kong film scene, and was hailed “the new hope for Hong Kong cinema” by local critic Shu Kei, this is definitely a film not to be missed.