Director: Mabel Cheung
Writer: Alex Law
Cast: Daniel Wu, Shu Qi, Geng Le, Faye Yu, Henry Ng
Running Time: 109 minutes
Mabel Cheung (An Autumn's Tale/City of Glass) directs another satisfying film this time focusing on the Bejing rock 'n roll culture, a love triangle and social commentary about being Chinese but coming from different cultures and countries.
Michael Ng(Daniel Wu) is a struggling singer-songwriter who has been sent by his father(Richard Ng) to Mainland China to stay while he improves his Mandarin. He discovers a wannabe rock band which catches his interests as does their dancer Yang Yin(Shu Qi) whose boyfriend Ping lu(Geng Le) is the lead singer of the rock group. When they go on a local tour "hole hopping" Michael tags along for the adventure but ends up falling in love with Yang.
The most interesting aspect of Beijing Rocks isn't actually the Rock scene, it's the different character's stories and backgrounds intertwining. Daniel Wu was likely cast as Michael Ng for not only his star power but also his similarity to the character. Michael is a Chinese-American who admits that his Mandarin is terrible, just like his English. He is often teased for his Hong Kong background and seems hesitant to embrace it. Michael appears to not really fit in to Beijing but after discovering the Rock band he sees something in them he can relate to.
Ping Lu is a much more complex character. He is an extremely rebellious rocker, to the point it could be holding back not only his band but also his relationship. In contrast he also has many similar traits that you would find in modern Chinese youth. Ping doesn't just want to play music for the sake of it, he wants to be different, he wants to stand out and he wants to deliver a message. Being a bit of a bad boy he is hard to feel sorry for, but credit to Geng Le, he manages to make you feel for him in some of the more sentimental scenes with his dad.
Shu Qi is loveable as usual. Delivering a sweet performance as Yang, a Taiwan native who has fell in love with a rockstar and believes they are bound to be together, even if her significant other doesn't feel quite as strong. Shu Qi really is a wonderful actress. This performance was still quite early on after her run in Cat III films, and she really got to exercise her acting chops in this role. Showing off some powerful emotive moments while also keeping you glued with her star screen presence.
Beijing Rocks has a road movie feel to it, which makes the story flow better than it probably should. The audio is handled superbly, and at times it almost feels like a rock musical while we endure full songs performed by the band. And I don't use endure lightly. Some of the songs are real stinkers! Not the most accessible music and you can understand why the band hasn't made it big. There is a great musical nostalgia moment during one heart warming scene when Yang has to take over the vocals for a song.
The setting of China is used effectively for the characters and story and it's actually refreshing that it's just used as another country without being soaked in political statements. There are plenty of Chinese landmarks and historical sites on display as we are shown these through the eyes of the tourist Michael and his trusty handycam.
Not without it's flaws, during the last 20 minutes the film changes it's course and the melodrama starts to seep in. The ending, although suited to the theme of the film, does seem a bit rushed and unsatisfactory. It feels like a different approach could have left the characters with a more gratifying conclusion.
None of this takes away from the positives of the film. It has great characters and a very personal and intimate story. Mabel Cheung is an extremely interesting director and her films are always entertaining even if somewhat unconventional.
See this if you like:
An Autumns Tale
City Of Glass
Eight Taels Of Gold
Couldn't actually find a trailer. But here is a MV for the film. Probably best not watching all the way through in case of spoilers. But it gives you a feel for the film.