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Dada's Dance
Dada's Dance

Li Xiaofeng takes a break from her sultry dance in Dada's Dance.
Chinese: 達達  
Year: 2008
Director: Zhang Yuan  
Writer: Jia Lisha, Li Xiaofeng
Cast: Li Xiaofeng, Li Xinyun, Gai Ke, Chen Jun, Liu Yi
The Skinny:

A generally unremarkable story dressed up with moody, involving and romantic staging, not to mention a strong central performance from Li Xiaofeng. Dada's Dance is alluring and seductive, which is probably all it needs to be.

by Kozo:

In Dada's Dance, the camera simply loves Li Xiao-Feng. The star of the latest film from director Zhang Yuan (Green Tea), Li resembles a young Vicki Zhao by way of Shu Qi, with large eyes, pouty lips and an adorable sensuality. Multiple male characters in the film say that she's "delectable", and that opinion is easy to agree with. Li's Dada is a charming young tease who enchants every male around her, and it seems Zhang Yuan is intent on convincing the audience of the same. The camera lingers on her with affection, regarding her with obvious and even uncomfortable appreciation. Superficially speaking, males in the audience should be happy. If that was Zhang Yuan's intention - making heterosexual males enamored of his actress and her character - then he scores full marks.

However, Dada has some issues. She may be an adorable coquette, but her temptress act can easily cause audience dislike. Her teasing behavior is irresponsible, and true to standard narrative clichés, it eventually causes irreparable damage. Thankfully, Zhang Yuan and Li Xiao-Feng conquer that problem, and manage to make Dada an interesting and even sympathetic heroine. Also, Zhang Yuan finds genuine emotional tension in her story, slight though it may be. The plot of Dada's Dance moves like a romantic, aimless road movie, and the disaffection and estrangement witnessed is mostly routine. Dada's Dance could easily be a self-indulgent exercise in pre-supposed existential meaning, but Zhang lets his direction and his actress do the talking. The performances, craft and above all, the mood, allow Dada's Dance to surpass its own limitations.

We first meet Dada when she wakes up one morning and brazenly flaunts her immodestly-dressed form in front of both her mother (Gai Ke) and her live-in boyfriend. Once alone, she cleans the house while dancing seductively to a romantic Latin rhythm, attracting the appreciative eye of young neighbor Zhao Ye (Li Xin-Yun), who peeps at her from next door. Dada is aware of his attentions, and their relationship is flirtatious, though it only goes as far as Dada allows it to. She holds all the power in her relationships; besides keeping Zhao Ye at bay, Dada registers open disdain at the leering gaze of her mother's lover. He tells Dada that he finds her "delectable", to which she responds with withering disgust. Apparently, Dada is nobody's fool - or, at least she tries to act that way.

Things turn for Dada when she learns that she was adopted, and undertakes a journey to find her biological mother. She brings Zhao Ye along for company, but the journey is neither crucial nor overtly revealing. Dada may leave with an important goal in mind, but the journey ultimately becomes a way to aimlessly kill time, with Dada's disaffection fed by her growing disappointment with the people around her. Dada's dance is figurative as well as literal, as she remains a solitary figure dancing around her friends and acquaintances, her loneliness apparent even when she's seductively teasing Zhao Ye. But Dada's loneliness is also part of her immaturity. In many ways she's still a child, and during the course of her journey, her actions become irreparable, with consequences to be faced. Ultimately there's a price to pay, and the outcome feels unremarkable despite its abundant romanticism. One can almost imagine Zhang Yuan and his screenwriters (one of whom was actress Li Xiao-Feng) conceiving Dada's Dance over afternoon drinks, the barebones screenplay fitting neatly on a cocktail napkin.

And yet Zhang Yuan creates a character and situations that matter more than his slight story does. Li Xiao-Feng's performance deserves much of the credit; Dada comes to matter largely due to Li's expressive body language and believable emotional depth. Just as her dance enchants Zhao Ye, it also enchants the audience, and her growth as a person is involving enough to make up for her character's initial lack of likability. At the same time, Zhang Yuan makes Dada and her emotions so resonant that her actions seem freed of their required narrative need. The story is largely predictable - it's a China film, so you know certain things have to be addressed - but the characters and emotions are strong enough to surpass narrative expectation. The spell cast by Dada's Dance is seductive and immersive, not necessarily in content, but most definitely in form, from Zhang Yuan's romantic handling to the atmospheric score, evocative locations, and excellent cinematography. However, it's Li Xiao-Feng's alluring presence that casts the most seductive spell of all. In many ways, it seems like that's what Dada's Dance is really all about. (Kozo, Reviewed at the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival, 2008)

image credit: Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen