A cursory glance at a poster, trailer, or cast list for Beach Spike would suggest a rather revealing portrait of beach volleyball. As with most Hong Kong films however, one’s enjoyment is generally proportional to one’s expectations. I figured this particular movie would amount to an hour and a half exhibition of Chrissie Chau and Jessica C’s assets, juxtaposed with volleyballs for added bounce. I’ll venture to guess that most others expected the same, and while I personally am not too keen on the idea, I’m sure this would satisfy a good many. So, I was pleasantly surprised that the flesh show was balanced out with what can be reasonably called a plot. Additionally, I quite liked Miss Chau’s attempt at acting. Yes, it’s all about expectations.
The movie rolls off to a quick start. In speedy succession, we are introduced to cousins and local volleyball heroes Sharon (Chau) and Rachel (Teresa Fu), the latter’s other half Water (Jazz Lam), and his layabout storeowner father (of course Lam Suet). They are an easy going, beach loving lot but experience an unfortunate run-in with their wealthy neighbors: sisters and, coincidentally, volleyball powerhouses Natalie (Jessica C) and Natasha (Phoenix Chou), brother Tim (Him Law), and Mama Bro (actual actress Candice Yu). Tim though is cut from a different cloth than his snobby sisters, and that would be the sympathetic and non-Eurasian bolt. Although he shares a warm relationship with his family, they don’t approve of his slumming and shun him after he befriends Sharon. The two factions are further strained because Mrs. Bro wants to push forward a development plan that would result in the demolition of the beachfront and its businesses. At this point you may be wondering how volleyball fits in. It turns out that the locals rescued Mrs. Bro and her now deceased mister from a kidnapping some years back so she is loathe to destroy the beach and their livelihoods. Enter Natasha, who casually suggests that they settle the deal through a volleyball match. This is the obvious course of action.
You can already guess how this movie is going to end, but you probably can’t figure out how Tim is related to his family; he resembles neither his sisters nor his very Caucasian father (Bey Logan) and clearly did not attend an English-medium school. And no, there is no suggestion that he is adopted or a step or half-sibling. Meanwhile on the filmmaking end, viewers may be baffled and embarrassed by the horrendous English dialogue. Tony Tang (writer/director), contact me; I’ll edit for free next time and save us all a bit of awkwardness. Just as perplexing is the shift halfway through the movie into kung fu territory. This was either a) an attempt to contrast the “Western” training techniques of Natalie and Natasha with the more…indigenous methods of the local gals, or b) a commercial attempt to attract another demographic. Still more, someone forgot to invoke the mercy rule regarding sports slow-mo. It was funny seeing Chrissie Chau’s face ripple from the aftershock of a volleyball hit, but the repetitive training scenes and final match rivaled extended Nike and Gatorade adverts.
Then there is the thing called acting. This movie boasts a healthy range of mediocrity, from the groan (Phoenix Chou) to the “meh” (Teresa Fu) to the shrug of approval (Him Law). Bookending the main cast are Jessica C and Miss Chau, and again, one refers back to one’s expectations. Both belong to that contemptible category – the lang mo, or pseudo-model, a much reviled, though often revered, part of the Hong Kong entertainment industry. Mostly known for their racy pictorals and getting their kits off at video game conventions, these lang mo have already set the acting bar to sea level. Imagine my shock then when Jessica C plunged that bar to Titanic lows with her performance here. It was all the more regrettable because hers was actually an interesting character. Although Natalie nursed an unreasonable prejudice against the poor kids in town, she struggled to reconcile that with a genuine love for her younger brother. A challenging character may have been too much to ask for…and so we have Chrissie Chau. And let me go on record as saying that she is not that bad. I’m even amenable to the claim that she is a promising actress. I don’t know if it’s her lang mo background which has led to her being roundly assaulted by the tastemakers, but she conveys a natural sense of the underdog, someone who is easy to root for. It remains to be seen whether this ability to elicit empathy will translate to other roles, but in Miss Chau’s defense, Shu Qi started in less than illustrious settings and managed to work her way up to a Hong Kong Film Award. So, someone give Chrissie Chau acting lessons and a multi-dimensional character (I know that’s a lot to ask for), and she might produce something better than Beach Spike.
Released: 2011/Reviewed: 2012