Film Review: The Way We Dance

Director Adam Wong. Photo credit Ruth Li

Article by Wun Kuen Ng

The Way We Dance: How far are you willing to go for dance? The film is about the journey of a dream seeker. The trials and choices, one makes to become. The preview screening of THE WAY WE DANCE at Asia Society on Oct 25 which was co-hosted by Asian CineVision was completely sold out. This film has a wide audience appeal and is highly recommended.

Fleur (Cherry Ngan), an aspiring dancer, daughter of Tofu shop owners is accepted to Hong Kong University, where she joins a hip-hop dance group, BombA. The group leader, Dave tries to out battle archrival Rooftoppers with the help of Fleur. However, when Rebecca, another team member makes fun of the Fleur’s radical dance moves, likened to a fiddle crab, Fleur storms off. She is persuaded by straight-laced Chairman Alan (Babyjohn Choi) to join the Tai Chi Club. Through her relationship with Alan, she learns to incorporate the ancient graceful language of body movement and energy with the innovative dance steps of the hip-hop. When she was ready to re-join BombA to prepare for the dance championship, she injures her leg leaving her in a wheelchair for three months. At her lowest moment, she meets Stormy (Tommy “Guns” Ly), the leader of Rooftoppers, who reveals how his handicap influences his dance style. It gives her hope and determination to confront her own situation and come up with a new street dance style.

Watching the brilliant sexy dance choreography makes one want to go see a chiropractor afterwards. How is it possible to make the body move like that, the audience wonders. The film has high energy and pulsing music which make the audience want to get up out of their seat and dance. There is one scene in the movie where the hip hop dancers are performing their steps and the camera zeros in at the tai chi martial artist who sets a contrast to the chaos and noise around him with his center of energy and slow graceful movements. It is a moment to behold. The film does a good job of showing how the youth want to exert itself and still coexist with the ancient philosophy and wisdom. During the Q&A session, Director Wong said that he just had to use one or two words to describe the type of dance scene he wanted like “beastly” for the Rooftoppers dancer, or wild for university students, then the masterful choreographer Shin Mak will magically do the rest.

There are many delightful surprises in the film. The script is filled with witty lines and comical scenes. Many times the audience clapped at the dance battles and comic scenes. The many dancers in the film, who have very little acting experiences, manage to carry the emotional weight of each scene. One character with a physical handicap is an actual dancer in real life, which drives home the message, How far are you willing to go for dance? There is an authentic urban street scene conveyed in the film. It has a good balance of youth exuberance, hip-hop cosmopolitan lifestyle with traditional Chinese moves and touchstones.

Asia Society Film Curator Frances Hui. Photo credit Ruth Li

In the Q&A session afterwards, Director Wong mentioned that he has no background in dance, but because he is visual, and watched a lot of performance, he was able to do a dance film after many hours of research. The film took four years of labor of love to bring it into fruition. The inspiration came from watching a group of street dancers, Dance Society (DanSo) perform in front of a 7Eleven store, now a world famous spot drawing a lively hip hop crowd.

Director Wong discussed how there was no funding for the movie even money for an office. So he and his collaborator will discuss the premise of the film ideas and talk all night on the street, in restaurants until kicked out, finally being able to stay as long as they like at Polytechnical University, where Wong ended up teaching. A major Hong Kong production company picked it up but needed more funding and wait they did until funding came…one year turn to two years. Negative comments ensue. Why would anyone want to make a dance movie? People thought. Not until a submission to the 2011 Golden Horse Film Festival, did a powerhouse investor Winnie Tsang saw promise in it and moved the project along. There were many strategic marketing decisions that went into bringing the film to a wider audience. Should the hip-hop dancing be emphasized? But the film doesn’t want to turn off the non hip-hop audience members. What about the non-famous actors? How do you draw the crowd to see a movie without famous actors? Director Wong did a bold move and elevated the profile of the actors by giving them their own spot at the end of the movie. He also does a guerrilla marketing campaign with flyers asking the question, “How far are you willing to go for ________?” He had his own team filled in the blanket to get the campaign going. Surprisingly, there were people who filled it out and took pictures on Instagram. One week before the release date, he was trembling and asked everyone not to tell him the box office numbers. But someone did. Not discouraged by the low numbers, he encouraged everyone if they like the movie to like it on Facebook and share it with their friends. Slowly word of mouth spread. Chow Yun Fat appeared in the theatre one evening, and the newspaper featured him on the front page of the entertainment section. He said he had tears in his eyes when he was watching the movie.

A poignant question for Wong was if this film is about having Hong Kong pride, a search for a new Hong Kong identity. Wong said he think about that all the time but not when he was making the movie. This drew a laugh from the audience. He did mention there is no Hong Kong anymore. It is losing its identity. He wanted to get back to a more authentic voice. Not to over do it or be superficial, he purposeful chose locations and streets that he felt connected to. The memory of going to a tofu shop in high school prompted him to choose a tofu shop as the backdrop of the main character.

Wong’s next movie will be a romance movie. When asked if there is rumor of a sequel to “The Way We Dance.” Wong said that he would make “The Way We Dance” Part 3 before Part 2 because of the psychological pressure and usual letdown of Part 2 in the sequels. Whichever way he chooses to make it, we look forward to seeing more of his work.

‘The Way We Dance’
Director: Adam Wong. Hong Kong. 2013.
Writing Credits: Saville Chan, Adam Wong
Cast (in credit order): Singh Hartihan Bitto, Cherry Ngan
Produced by Saville Chan (Producer), Winnie Tsang (Executive Producer)
Cinematography by: Siu-keung Cheng
Run Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes (Cantonese w. English subtitles)

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