April 06, 2006


Daniel Wu's directorial debut, HEAVENLY KINGS, a mockumentary about the Cantopop industry

The worst-kept secret in Hong Kong has been the identity of the movie listed in the catalogue as "Film Surprise". Not only did everyone pretty much know within ten minutes that this was Daniel Wu's directorial debut, HEAVENLY KINGS, a mockumentary about the Cantopop industry, but everyone seemed to hear it from Wu himself. When paparazzi got into the apartment across the way to take photos of him with his girlfriend, Wu supposedly blocked his own windows with HEAVENLY KINGS posters and for a while there was a rumor going around that if you went to sleep with your windows open Daniel Wu would creep in and whisper the release date in your ear.

Wu is a master manipulator of the Hong Kong media, and a regular on CHISEEN, a PUNK'D style show on Hong Kong television. When HEAVENLY KINGS was being made there was a war of words between Wu and bandmember Terence regarding the use of some concert footage but the press smelt something funny and suspected it was a stunt to generate publicity for the film and after seeing the movie I believe it was a stunt as well. If you read the Alive blog you'll see all kinds of tasty tidbits thrown out like chum for the carnivorous media to feed on and there's something refreshing in the completely fabricated nature of Alive.

HEAVENLY KINGS is shot on digital video and features talking head interviews with Jacky Cheung, Miriam Yeung, Karen Mok and other Cantopop celebs, intercut with animated dream sequences, real documentary footage and staged footage. Supposedly an expose of Alive it actually is more satisfying as a guided tour through the Cantopop caverns. The four boys of alive are Conroy (Josie Ho's husband), Terence (who once had a career in Taiwan), Daniel and Andrew Lin. From their roots as a no-talent bunch of slackers looking to cash in, to the finale when they are a Real Live Band the film follows them through contract negotiations, the hiring of professional fans, some tired but still amusing stylist jokes, a Near Disaster in Taiwan and back again.

More of a smile-inducer than a laugh-generator, the local audience sucked down the in jokes and the familiar faces with great gusto but someone who's not personally invested in the Cantopop industry will probably just find it a pleasant time-waster. The biggest problem with the movie is Daniel Wu's direction. He's certainly assured and the flick is well-made so that makes it even more frustrating that it has no idea what kind of movie it wants to be. At times it comes off as a real documentary as people like Nic Tse talk to the camera and plead for more cooperation amongst artists. Then it'll send itself up with a scene of Andrew bitching about Daniel. Then we wind up with a completely sentimental ending about how much the bandmembers like each other. It's as if they wanted to do a SPINAL TAP type movie but then lost their nerve because they couldn't bring themselves to do anything to actually injure the brand name Alive since it does provide them with a nice income.

If you're going to send yourself up, you have to be merciless, and Daniel Wu seems too personally invested in his friends and bandmates to give them the total skewering that would make this movie work outside of Cantopop friendly circles. Surprisingly, the best actor in the bunch turns out to be Andrew (yay Andrew! I love you!) who is also the only one who seems to be playing a role. Vain, petty and somewhat bone-headed his onscreen Andrew provides most of the the big laughs whereas the other three guys have their moments but none of them seems to have a handle on grabbing a "type" and playing it to the hilt the way Andrew does.

Overall, you could do worse if you've got 90 minutes or so to spare, and if you're familiar with the music it's a fun little stroll through a nicely appointed petting zoo. It's fine. Buy when you're promised a satire, "fine" just doesn't cut it.

April 6, 2006 at 01:01 AM in Film Reviews | Permalink


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