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Beijing Rocks
cast: Shu Qi, Daniel Wu, Richard Ng Yiu-hon, Geng Le, Hu Xi-yong

directors: Mabel Cheung, Yuen-Ting

105 minutes (tbc) 2001
widescreen ratio 16:9
Mega Asia DVD Region '0' retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
"Want a mutton kebab?" is the chat-up line delivered by a greasy apron skirted, large bellied, middle-aged stage invader to Yang Yin, whose troupe may or may not be strippers, but are too fetching for the audience not to hope they would disrobe and do more than jiggle. It is a side project for the young beauty played by Shu Qi (currently to be seen in The Transporter) whose usual gig is to accompany her fellow, name of Road (Geng Le), and his band, the Glorious Sun Gods. The handsome Road's dream is that when his father retires as an engine driver, he will be able to replace him on the locomotive. Michael (Daniel Wu Yin Cho) is a professional songwriter with a court date concerning a serious crime looming. American born, Hong Kong made, father an influential architect, he seeks escape from the duress and is drawn in by the beauty of Yang Yin. Returning the drummer his sticks lost at a concert that turned into a near riot Michael inveigles his way into the entourage. The kebab salesman set to accost her in front of a live audience ends up with a crease in his head from the tempestuous wild girl and though it is half a centimetre short of the four centimetres required to make it a bureau case an example is demanded made of her and she is shuffled away into a overfull cell abiding petty rules. Bail is raised but must be repaid and so a tour is established, attaching when necessary to a travelling variety bill. Michael is waiting for the volatile relationship to divide Road and Yang Yin far enough apart for him to step in but he is too polite and they roll back together repeatedly before he can make his move. It becomes time for him to return to answer to his crime and for the Road to meet one of three possible futures; rock stardom, job for life or dying young.
   The story is conventional and yet flouts convention by the common acceptance of the rock adventure and tragedy of youth plotline. It makes no attempt to trick the viewer; that would be too much given the dressing and filling of the bread. It's an extravagant sandwich. The dialogue is rich but comes at such a happy and spirited pace that the subtitles have difficulty keeping up with it, though this could have been improved upon and most of it is the misjudgement of the subtitlers; when it is not the subtitlers in the wrong it is the viewer who needs his or her eyes to keep up with the busy activities, colours and beautiful people on screen. The three leads and the bass guitarist Mr Sun (Shun Hai-bo) are each granted an address to the camera to an experimentally animated background. Their personal essays are witty and warm, the images that back and assault them insane. Michael goes first and his introduction concludes with a paper bag with eye and mouth holes falling across his face, his mouth within literally zipping up, a toilet chain falling and dangling from inside and a tiny mouse jumping onto it and dragging the chain, Michael and sequence down out of view. It's crazy and original, as individual as a Terry Gilliam job.
   It is a frivolous mini-adventure that never lets up like a University film student project of a commercial feature-length adventure with everyone adding there only technical talent and flavour to it (as was the case with Zombie High, The Forgotten One and Alone In The T-Shirt Zone, each of which struggle to jam in their respective campus' animation students efforts) but here with so fascinating and frenetic a mix tacked to an ordinary enough body of plot it works charmingly. Dialogue frequently throws up some gems and in a pre-video and DVD age this would become a cult building midnight movie on the quotable alone. "I know there are 100 ways to kill yourself, one of which is to marry a rocker," Yang Yin tells us. On his latest dog, the animal loving Road is a little more positive when talking of his pet that he is not going to be stolen by hungry villagers, the suspected fate of his previous tour canines. "He's a bit dumb and he's so afraid so I named him Black Hurricane. I don't know what'll happen to him eventually but at least he's got a hot shit name." When Michael enquires at a market stall of a disc by his own defunct early band, the Mexican Jumping Beans, the elderly stallholder (Yan Guan-ying) insults him, "You're not big just because you say you're big, when my people's store carries your pirated CDs... then you're big!"
   Visually it hurries up then will slow down, unusual shots are hunted down and casually inset, collage editing excites and colours go on parade, while in another sequence a slow terrible happening is intercut with dream images, the first in sunny orange glows with the latter's cold lavender winter chase scene. Images don't get much richer than a gentle hand combing a bead of sweetcorn from a dead man's hair. And the closing jumping bean sequence with the young adult left to believe in the magic in it when the secret squirming life of the bean could so easily be revealed to him is heart-warming. A world is opened to us that might not be real but at times certainly have elements of the real as we see them live off congee and 56 percent proof Tequila pop. It is an attractive and fun life... yet still the Chinese government would have a difficult time seeing the bright side to its release.
   Most importantly it is a rock journey and music is of important consideration. The soundtrack is blessed with the works, a cross-section that includes an indigenous breakneck intro and slow jazz trawls, while the fake band is provided with songs by half-a-dozen different clearly different sounding bands (though to most ears, vocally similar). The best of the volunteer artistes are Sperm Bank (with the tracks 'Porcelain Brothers' and 'So You've Also Come') who's wild and classic funk rock exercises remind one of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Several other bands, included a fox-core girl outfit (Fall Insects) of some value, pop up at other points in the film. Dogs in Space this is not, thank fuck. Think Breaking Glass fought over by Richard Lester and Tsui Hark and you might come nearer. Better still simply catch up with this splendid film.

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