With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013
With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

Thursday, November 14, 2013

ACF 2012: Director Adam Wong and THE WAY WE DANCE

The Way We Dance
Directed by Adam Wong
Hong Kong, 2013, 110 minutes

Not so long ago -- on  Friday, October 25th to be precise -- I experienced one of those unexpectedly wonderful cinema-related days that come about very rarely. I'd received an invite to attend a round-table press conference with Adam Wong, director of a movie called The Way We Dance. The mid-afternoon event was to take place at the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office on East 54th Street. That evening a special preview screening of the movie, sponsored by the HKETONY, was to be held at Asia Society on Park Avenue and East 70th Street.

I'd never heard of the director or this film, and I generally don't like going to press conferences before I've seen the movie. But after watching the trailer (see below), I was intrigued. In great measure this was because there was a line of dialogue that went, "Wasn't that the long lost Tai Chi Hip Hop?" Now, I've been a practitioner of Tai Chi Chuan for over twenty years and was curious as to what connection the film would make between the slow, controlled and graceful martial art and the stylistically very different dance form.

So I accepted the invitation and was able to get a press seat for the screening that evening.

At the press conference, Adam Wong was pleasant and personable and remarkably multilingual, answering questions in English, Cantonese, and Mandarin, though he admitted that he was a bit weak with regards to the last. This was the second visit to New York by the director, who was born in Hong Kong in 1975. In 1996 he'd been an exchange student at the University of Iowa and had visited The Big Apple during spring break. Now he was again in town for the special screening at Asia Society. On Sunday, October 27th, he'd be in Boston where The Way We Dance was scheduled to be the closing film of the 5th Boston Asian American Film Festival.

Director Adam Wong at the HKE&TO (Photo by Stan Glick)

I learned that the film, which had received substantial funding from the Hong Kong Film Development Fund, had opened in Hong Kong on August 8, 2013 and that the initial box office had not been that impressive. But word-of-mouth was incredible and attendance soared. At the time of the press conference, two and a half months after the opening, the film was still playing at one theater in Hong Kong.

I asked the director how he came to include Tai Chi in a film about Hip Hop dancing. He said that he felt that the core spirit of Hip Hop is to be cool. Since Tai Chi seemed like the total opposite and since conflict is a prime mechanism for pushing or telling a story, he thought that a fusion of the two would be interesting.

Fleur (Cherry Ngan, right) and her Tai Chi mentor

Wong also informed those present that a sequel is in the works. He thinks that the approximate direction of that film will involve focusing on the hardships faced by dancers, which is addressed some, but not that much, in The Way We Dance. Because of the "sophomore curse" that strikes the second movie in so many series, he's thinking (only partially in jest) of titling the next film The Way We Dance 3, and skipping "2" altogether!

The screening that evening at Asia Society was sponsored by the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office, New York (HKETONY), in partnership with Asia Society and Asian CineVision. Before the screening, Wong made some introductory remarks to the packed auditorium. I was upset to hear him say that because of a "technical problem," we would be watching a DVD projection with a watermark. I hate having to put up with watermarks on review screeners that I watch on DVDs or streaming on my computer; now I was being presented with the degraded video of a DVD projection and a watermark.

(Note: this image is a screen capture from the trailer on YouTube)

(Later I came to think that the "problem" probably was related to Sunday night's screening in Boston, which was billed as the film's East Coast Premiere. That wouldn't be true if the film itself was shown two days earlier in New York. So the issue -- and again this is just my speculation -- would "technically" be avoided by showing a DVD projection on Friday night, not the movie itself.)

However, my concerns about watching a DVD projection with a watermark proved to be unwarranted. Yes, the image quality was most certainly not as good as that of film, and the watermark in the top right corner was initially a bit distracting. But they ultimately did not matter because THE FILM IS JUST SO DAMN GOOD!

Rivaling -- and perhaps exceeding -- the Step Up movies, The Way We Dance is a funny, energetic film that centers on Fleur. She's portrayed by actress Cherry Ngan, in a remarkable debut performance. (She's nominated for the 50th Golden Horse Film Awards, which is taking place this month, in the Best Actress category.) Fleur escapes from her family-owned a tofu establishment when she's accepted at college. There she embarks on her dream of dancing. She joins one of the two top college Hip Hop dance groups. She encounters difficulties when a more traditional beauty captures the object of Fleur's romantic attention, when a Tai Chi practitioner relentlessly pursues her, and when a leg injury threatens her dancing.

I just can't rave enough about this film. I enyed it immensely, as did the entire audience at Asia Society. Though it's never a definitive indication of the true merit of a film, the remarkably high 7.9/10 rating at IMDb (based on 85 users) is on the mark, as are the largely positive reviews by three critics and two users. The film also won the Audience Award at the 2013 (23rd) Focus on Asia-Fukuoka International Film Festival, September 13-23, 2013, Fukuoka, Japan.


My hope is that some smart distributor will pick up The Way We Dance for distribution in the U.S. I'm also hoping that it'll be featured at the 2014 New York Asian Film Festival. Ms. Ngan is already a major contender for a NYAFF Star Asia Rising Star Award in my heart.

If an opportunity to see this terrific, feel-good film ever presents itself, take advantage of it. You'll be so glad you did. Just be prepared for an amazing reveal by one of the members of The Rooftoppers dance group and be sure to stay through the credits.

AsianCineFest rating: 4 out of 4 stars; highest recommendation.

Links worthy of your attention:
- Interview: Chasing Dreams And Making Magic - Adam Wong and THE WAY WE DANCE
- Udine 2013 Review: THE WAY WE DANCE Finds The Right Beat (Twitch)
- The Way We Dance (2013) Film Review (Eye For Film)
- Asia Society Film Curator La Frances Hui's post-screening Q&A with The Way We Dance director Adam Wong is available at the Asia Society website by clicking here.

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