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The Heavenly Kings


From left to right: Conroy Chan, Andrew Lin, Terence Yin, and Daniel Wu.
Chinese: 四大天王
Year: 2006
Director: Daniel Wu
Producer: Daniel Wu, Andrew Lin Hoi, Terence Yin, Conroy Chan Chi-Chung
Cast: Daniel Wu, Andrew Lin Hoi, Terence Yin, Conroy Chan Chi-Chung, David Lee Wai-Seung, Tony Ho Wah-Chiu, Jo Koo, Jacky Cheung Hok-Yau, Miriam Yeung Chin-Wah, Karen Mok Man-Wai, Paul Wong Koon-Chung, Davy Chan, Nicholas Tse Ting-Fung, Jun Kung, Stephen Fung Tak-Lun, Candy Lo Hau-Yam, Josie Ho Chiu-Yi
The Skinny: Entertaining mockumentary about the life and times of unheralded boy band Alive. Daniel Wu and company have a good time making fun of themselves, and the digs at the Cantopop industry are amusing, if not new. It's all rather light and even cloying, but this is fun, irreverent stuff.
 
Review
by Kozo:

They're not much of a band, but they make a pretty damn entertaining movie. The Hong Kong boy band Alive, consisting of actors Daniel Wu, Terence Yin, Andrew Lin, and Conroy Chan, has had the cultural impact of a wasted ferret since their debut in 2005. Their lack of overt popularity (they haven't even released an album yet) is really no surprise. They may be fronted by a hot actor in Daniel Wu, but the other three members are solid B or C-listers who've never achieved any true stardom, and worse, appear in movies like PTU File - Death Trap, and Devil Face Angel Heart. Also, their musical talents aren't very impressive, and they can't dance either. With nothing to recommend them besides the non-musical popularity of one of their members, shouldn't Alive really be dead by now?

Maybe they should be, but according to The Heavenly Kings, they're still still chugging along. A "mockumentary" about the group's attempted ascent into the Cantopop stratosphere, The Heavenly Kings is part fact, part fiction, part animated, and all amusing. Alive produced and Daniel Wu directed this shot-on-digital-video exercise, which basically asks the question: how does a talent-challenged boy band make it in the shrinking Hong Kong music market? The answer: by manipulating the media. As revealed via "hidden" cameras and face-to-face interviews, the boys were getting crappy offers from the record execs, so they decided to enter the public eye (or maybe ear) in a publicly accepted, but still illegal way. To get their songs heard, the boys of Alive uploaded their first single onto the Internet, then complained to the media, and finally "officially" offered their song for download on their own website. It's ingenious stuff: lie to everyone, play the victim, then become heroes for delivering what your fans want.

It's questionable if that's the whole truth, though. The Heavenly Kings follows the journey of Alive in disturbingly close detail. Many of the events depicted in the film actually happened, such as the initial press conference covering their downloaded single, plus their endorsements, public appearances, and even some of their purported conflicts. This accuracy to real events disturbs because the question arises if Wu and company actually pulled off their supposed deception, with this movie being the smoking gun/self-published exposé. Is Alive really so smart that they were able to manipulate the media this completely from the very first day?

Possibly, and Wu's ability to keep the audience guessing is one of the film's strengths. It's feasible that Alive really did do something that extreme to make headlines; as this film plainly shows, the group is willing to bite the hand that feeds it. In the film, director Daniel Wu slams the HK media institution and the Cantopop industry in general, knocking both for favoring smiling saccharine pap over actual substance. It's a decidedly cynical take on Hong Kong's media culture; the irreverent attitude and the edgy animation (at times, animated sequences provide commentary on each band member's inner life) feels very appropriate for the group's Western attitudes and sensibilities. By poking so much fun at the media and brazenly announcing the crappiness of the industry in such a direct fashion, the film goes much farther than most of its contemporaries ever would. The cynicism on display definitely belongs to a newer generation; you'd never see any of the original Heavenly Kings do something this ballsy.

Still, it's really not that ballsy. Wu and company do take the media and Cantopop to task, but leave some targets curiously unscathed. One of Alive's biggest media brouhahas was their public dissing of Hong Kong Disneyland, and their subsequent banning from TVB. None of that gets referenced in The Heavenly Kings - which could mean that there are some people that Alive isn't willing to take on. Also, the more scathing stuff is largely negated by the hijinks and tomfoolery of the boys. The journey of Alive is interspersed with many talking head interviews with people like Jacky Cheung, Paul Wong of Beyond, Nicholas Tse, Miriam Yeung, Candy Lo, Karen Mok, and more. Dirt and dish about Cantopop gets thrown about, but in the end it doesn't do all that much. Some of the industry's absurdities make for good laughs, and some stories border on revealing, but not much is really gleamed. In some ways, The Heavenly Kings feels like a wasted opportunity because it's not as brave as it initially seems.

But at least the film doesn't paint Alive's journey as some sort of quest to "keep it real". Alive doesn't give itself props; in fact, more often than not they just appear crappy. Wu and company are good sports, and spend just as much time making themselves look silly as they do dissing the media. Right away, we learn that they started Alive to make music and have fun, but the project has problems because the group basically sucks. Nobody except Terence Yin can sing, and he's portrayed as a prima donna VIP wannabe with flatulence problems. Conroy Chan's problem is that he's married to someone far more famous and successful (actress Josie Ho). He's also fat. Daniel Wu is portrayed as overly anxious and a bit of a control freak, while Andrew Lin is the nice guy of the group who's really in it just to boost his flagging career. They mostly can't sing, none of them can dance, and they sometimes appear stupid. None of the guys come out of film looking all that great - which in itself is a fun commentary on the whole idea of talent and fame. It also all but confirms that this "documentary" is just an act. Once the film enters its crunch time conflict - which is whether or not the four friends can get along again in time for the big performance - you know some fakery is definitely on display. This isn't a documentary; it's an facetious facsimile of one.

It's the sense of humor that makes The Heavenly Kings a pleasant surprise. Those who wonder who these guys are may not get all the jokes, but Hong Kong entertainment junkies should find this to be a fun and even richly entertaining experience. It's hilarious to see Alive reveal themselves to be potentially crappy because that's what some of us probably think when watching Naked Weapon or Kung Fu Mahjong 2. By putting their faults (or fabricated faults, anyway) on display, the foursome come off as likable and even sympathetic blokes - though really, the film doesn't always portray them as such. Daniel Wu reveals a remarkably keen sense of humor, and his timing can be dead on. One wonders if he could translate that talent to actual narrative filmmaking, or if he's destined to be some sort of ultra-lite Hong Kong Michael Moore, with cynical mockumentaries as his specialty. Or he may never make another film - after all, who knew that Wu was going to try a singing career? After starting a boy band, doing the Hong Kong version of Jackass (called Chiseen), and then directing a film, it's worth wondering if he'll put the filmmaking hat on once again. He should. (Kozo 2006)

 
Notes: • You all want to visit the official site of Alive, don't you? You can find it here.
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
CN Entertainment
Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles

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