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It's Showtime for a group of young dancers in Shanghai.

Chinese: 用心跳  
Year: 2010  
Director: Stanley Kwan Kam-Pang
Producer: Yin Jianhua
Writer: Jimmy Ngai
Cast: Jiang Yi, Gao Tingting, Phil Tsai, Xu Jiajing, Wang Huan, Lung Ling, Miranda Li, Eugenia Sun, Si Wen, Tu Ran, Huang Lei, Hu Jun, Fan Wei, Wang Nan, Landy Wen, Song Jia, Christopher Doyle, Carina Lau Ka-Ling, Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Liao Fan
The Skinny: It's got dancing! Time travel! Hoops! Cleaning! Tony Leung Ka-Fai! An utter lack of coherence! Showtime could be a camp classic if it weren't so incredibly earnest and uninteresting. The most unfathomable film of the year, bar none. We hope this was directed by some other Stanley Kwan.
by Kozo:

Let’s address the elephant in the room first: yes, Showtime is directed by Stanley Kwan, the renowned director who brought us Rouge and Centre Stage during the Hong Kong Cinema heyday of the eighties and nineties. This is also the same Stanley Kwan who gave us the panned Island Tales, the disappointing Everlasting Regret, and also the official TVB Calendar from a few years back, where he directed stars like Bosco Wong, Linda Chung and Suki Chui in what amounted to a series of company photos. He also made 2001’s excellent Lan Yu, but that could be the palate cleanser. Kwan directed Showtime and we’ll talk no further about what that means. If we did, well, there could be blood.

Showtime is an inspirational dance film about youth, friendship, Shanghai, time travel and knowingly letting your friends go to their deaths. And there’s absolutely no conflict. The film begins, defines its situation, and then resolves itself without anything resembling drama. Meanwhile, nobody acts in a realistic manner. True, time travel itself is not realistic, but Showtime ostensibly takes place in a world that could be ours. Ergo, people should react like normal people and ask “WTF?” when faced with time travelling dancers who can dunk viciously on the basketball court. Instead, nobody bats an eye and then everyone goes to a barbeque where they talk about stuff that nobody outside the film is interested in. If this were real life, you’d leave or play Angry Birds on your iPhone. Hell, you could still choose to do those things. Nobody over here will stop you.

Plot for those who wonder what in Sam Hill is going on: six dancers from 1936 Shanghai are instructed by their master (Hu Jun) to broaden their horizons, so he sends them hurtling through time to the twenty-first century. There, they form a janitorial team called “Cleaning Babes," and practice their nifty dance moves while sweeping floors and bar tables. But, they’ve decided that it’s time to end their modern-day sojourn, during which time they apparently never read a history book that tells them that the Japanese invaded Shanghai in 1937. Oblivious or uncaring that they're choosing to embrace death, the time travellers decide to perform the “Arhat Project,” a dance performance that triggers their time travel. However, they need a total of 18 dancers to go all Arhat, and find 12 present-day dance students to fill out their team. So that’s 18 characters to get to know. Can you learn their names and faces in less than two hours?

If you can, your powers of understanding are far greater than the normal human’s because the 18 dancers are played by total unknowns (many, if not all of whom are real Chinese dance students) and the filmmakers throw in a number of unfathomable cameos by big name stars. Other than Hu Jun, actors like Carina Lau and Tony Leung Ka-Fai show up to overact and talk about stuff that only makes the film even more confusing. Meanwhile, each of the time travelers – who possess bizarre super athleticism like stuntmen from a Matrix sequel - takes a modern dancer as an apprentice, usually after someone begs them, “Please be my master!” Then, everyone gathers to cry about their upcoming parting, despite the fact that little time was actually spent on seeing all the dancers become friends. But then there's a sudden flashforward to 2019, where the graduated dance students reconvene and say, “Hey, remember those time travelers back in 2009? Wonder how they’re doing?” Again, they don’t seem to realize that they sent their time-travelling buddies to meet their probable deaths in 1936. Then it’s back to the past for the performance of the Arhat Project. Or is this the present? Does anyone really care?

Yeah, this whole plot sounds completely bizarre, but it could be entertaining if told creatively, right? Sadly, the storytelling here is dense if not all-out incoherent. Rather than explain what the bejesus is going on in an easy-to-follow story format, the filmmakers opt for a time-shifting narrative that jumps back and forth between 1936 and 2009, with uninteresting verbal exposition and undeveloped detail used to explain the unfathomable action we've witnessed before. Feelings, story, etc., are all explained in dialogue, but not exactly in a linear fashion, meaning the audience can be confused by A) the sheer amount of indistinguishable actors, B) the characters’ unknown and mostly unidentifiable motivations, and C) the fact that most exposition is delivered at the wrong time, if at all. Making matters even worse: nobody ever reveals why or how the Arhat Project allows time travel! Basically it just does. Note to filmmakers: suspension of disbelief requires a little more help from you.

All would be forgiven if the dancing were inspired or entertaining, but there isn’t that much dancing in Showtime. There are a few moments of skilled hoofing but nothing resembling a full-on musical number, as much of the dancing occurs in montage rather than in set pieces. Showtime lacks everything a normal film might possess, like identifiable character, developed drama, perceivable tension – hell, the movie lacks context. Why is any of this happening? Why should we care? And do the dancers dance 88 miles per hour to travel through time? The film doesn’t answer any of those questions, making it either a complete failure or some sort of narrative experiment that normal mortals simply can’t comprehend. Maybe the filmmakers have somehow tapped into the modern Web 3.0 savvy youth – that is, kids who can process brief snippets of disconnected information without getting annoyed at bad grammar or syntax. Who needs context, meaning or coherence when we can get hit with new information, images, people or ideas every two to three minutes? Hell, Showtime could be the future of cinema! If it is, I’ll gladly crown it as such in 2019. Right now, in 2010? Back to Angry Birds. (Kozo, reviewed at the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival, 2010)


image credit: Golden Scene Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen