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Lives in Flames
Lives in Flames

Youth rock out in Lives in Flames.
Chinese: 起勢搖滾  
Year: 2012  
Director: Jacky Lee  
Producer: Ng Kin-Hung  
Writer: Mark Wu Yiu-Fai, Lam Fung  
Cast: Mr. (Alan, MJ, Dash, Ronny, Tom), Mag Lam Yan-Tung, Alex Lam Tak-Shun, Jeana Ho Pui-Yu, Bonnie Xian, Chan Wai-Man, Michelle Wai, Linda Wong Hing-Ping, Candy Lo Hau-Yam, Z.O. (Chen Zhi-Ming), Tai Chi (band), Alan Tam Wing-Lun, Calvin Poon Yuen-Leung, Andrew Lam Man-Chung
The Skinny: Lives in Flames is a well-meaning look into Hong Kong’s independent band scene, but any genuine insight is overshadowed by over-reliance on youth movie clichés. Fans of Mr. will be happy, though.
by Kevin Ma:

A metropolis of seven million inhabitants, Hong Kong has a small but active indie band scene. However, survival for these bands can be tough due to Hong Kong’s ultra-commercial music industry, the society’s general obsession with making money and a booming real estate market that’s taking away affordable venues for small-time bands to practice and perform in. It might be pure fantasy, but a David vs. Goliath story about a struggling Hong Kong indie band that overcomes the odds and makes it big would probably make for an inspiring film.

Unfortunately, Lives in Flames is not that film. Starring real-life Hong Kong band Mr., Lives in Flames is a typical “youths with dreams” film that simply scratches the surface of what the Hong Kong band scene is like. It is a film so shallow and lacking in ambition that director Jacky Lee doesn’t even seem to have any interest in music and musicians in the first place – quite ironic for a director who made his name directing music videos.

Instead of an inspirational band film, writers Lam Fung (not Raymond Lam) and Mark Wu tell a fictional, melodrama-filled version of Mr.’s origins, starting with a kick-ass performance during their school days. That’s the band’s final performance, and they all end up going their separate ways. Several years later, lead singer Alan (the band members all use their real names here) has left the band life, working one failed job after another to the chagrin of his traditional father (Chan Wai-Man) and his successful older sister (Linda Wong). Meanwhile, guitarist Dash continues to pursue his dream by working as a lowly assistant in a music studio while his real estate agent girlfriend (Jeana Ho) pays the rent.

One day, Alan reunites with Dash at a street performance, and is invited to return to the band world with Dash’s band Mr. Miss, comprised of drummer Alex (Alex Lam, son of George), vocalist Tung (TVB singing contest winner Mag Lam), and bassist MJ. During one night at the arcade, Alan also recruits Guitar Hero expert Ronny to join as their second guitarist, completing Mr. Miss. Then, instead of following a group of youngsters trying to make it in the competitive music world with talent and hard work, Lives in Flames tells an overstuffed story with manufactured conflicts, unconvincing romances, a poorly-handled terminal illness subplot, and even a bit of serendipity that deflates the tension at the climax.

The message of Lives in Flames is simple: if you try, then you deserve to succeed. While that message might sound great to a high school student studying for college examinations, things are a little more complicated in the music field, where actual talent is required. Mr. fans may not need to be convinced that Mr. Miss is a hardworking, talented band (the songs in the film are all from Mr.’s chart-topping albums), but those unfamiliar with the band may have a difficult time believing this particular group has what it takes to win over other indie bands and headline concerts in Hong Kong Coliseum (not really a spoiler - the final minutes of the film feature actual footage from their concert DVD).

To its credit, Lives in Flames attempts to shed light on the Hong Kong indie band scene, exploring the run-down factory buildings, tiny band rooms and constant poverty that characterize their existence. However, the filmmakers fall back on youth movie clichés when they run out of things to say about music. Everything feels more perfunctory than sincere, from the “trying is succeeding” lesson down to Alan’s old music-loving crush (Michelle Wai in a glorified cameo) delivering cheesy and borderline incoherent encouragement like “I think guitar players can really find themselves.”

Ultimately, Lives in Flames plays like a throwback to a Hong Kong television music special from the 80s or the 90s. A television music special consists of a series of music videos loosely connected by a paper-thin story made to peddle a pop star’s latest release. These extended advertisements are usually easy to swallow because they are free to watch on television and they offer picturesque locations and superstars like Maggie Cheung. In Lives in Flames, not even the amusing cameos by real musicians like Alan Tam (who actually discovered the real Mr.), renowned local band Tai Chi, lyricist Andrew Lam, and Calvin Poon can elevate the film beyond television music special quality. It does deserve a gold star for its efforts, but that doesn’t mean it gets a passing grade. Better luck next time. (Kevin Ma, 2012)


DVD (Hong Kong)
All Region NTSC
Mei Ah Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles

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image courtesy of Intercontinental Video, Ltd. Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen