My excuse for watching Kung Fu Hip Hop 2 is that I was scammed into a 30 month cable contract and now have a buffet of bland movies at my fingertips. This gem happened to be on and I didn’t feel like going out. Wrong decision – much like this movie is a series of misguided choices. Let’s start with the title, which implies some type of martial arts action. Quash that notion now though as there are only fleeting moments of anything resembling kung fu. There is also the suggestion that this is a sequel; it is not. Jordan Chan and Fan Bing Bing of the original Kung Fu Hip Hop have turned elsewhere. As with the first movie, however, this is a Mainland China production that aims to net a pan-Asian audience by bringing in “stars” from the greater China region. It may also be an attempt to show the Chinese moviegoing public that street dancing and hip hop are art forms and viable outlets for personal expression. Bold, if this is actually the case, but the filmmaking fails to support this cause.
The elements are in place for a passable hip hop dance movie though, a genre that operates by some simple conventions. Wealthy Mianmian (China’s Miss Maxim 2008 Zhou Qiqi) enjoys a tame relationship with her surprisingly affluent Latin dance instructor Ranqiu (Hong Kong TVB actor Michael Tse). They are preparing for an international competition and want to add a few hip hop elements. Why? Because the story must move forward. She enlists the cuddly Letian (Taiwanese actor Chen Bolin) to help out but is put off by what she sees as his lack of form and respect for “proper” dance. The posh princess starts to soften though as Letian b-boys his way into her heart. Love triangle, set. Add to this a mix of warring crews – Letian’s Encore versus the ominous Gambler China, some intense battles, preferably in an abandoned warehouse – see the first 10 minutes, and a nasty character who wants to come between our heroes and their love of dance – a boxy, cigar chomping scoundrel.
There isn’t much of a formula beyond this, so why does this movie fall flat? Simply, there is no passion for hip hop, which is a philosophy well beyond the assemblage of icons and images presented here. Hip hop, specifically expressed through dance, cannot be constructed with trucker caps, baggy clothes, graffiti, and the token black guy. Nor is the ethos effectively conveyed through epileptic camerawork and throbbing bass. In fact, the glaring absence of an actual soundtrack suggests that this film is a facade, its filmmakers more invested in the appearance of an American art form and its associations than the music itself. At one point, Ranqiu “battles” Letian and company in a half-choreographed clap-off that baffles more than it inspires. Then in the climactic scene, which takes place in one of China’s sleek pantheons to modernity, the dancers are buffered by a ring of polite fangirls waving blinking signs.
Authenticity can translate across cultures, but the value(s) must remain the same. Respectable dance movies require a certain intensity, a sense of laying everything on the line. Other iterations of this story work because the characters are pushed to the limit and are left with only dance and music. Take the Hong Kong movie Give Them a Chance, which featured far more mediocre dancing (I mean, Andy Hui, seriously?), as an example. Those kids needed hip hop; it wasn’t just a pasttime or even a fervent hobby. In this movie, Wangzi (um, portrayed by…Wangzi), a member of Letian’s crew, sells his moves in order to earn money for his sick mother. He offers a faint taste of that desperation, but Letian dismisses his friend and simply lets him be. This forces the movie back to the maudlin romance and weakens the tension needed for a powerful final battle.
This inadequate attempt at mimicry could have been helped by a stronger cast, but anchor Chen Bolin, who reminds me of a bloated, cartoonish Takeshi Kaneshiro, merely brought cuteness, not chemistry, to his character. Having come fresh off a Laughing Gor marathon, I was also looking forward to seeing Mr. Tse in a different role, especially since he has actual dance training. But he often gets dwarfed on the big screen and thus did nothing to impress on the film’s dynamics. Finally the social critic in me sees a squandered opportunity for a fresh look at the genre. This could have been a Step Up (or Street Dance, Honey, Save the Last Dance, or [insert dance movie here]) with Chinese characteristics. Mianmian is one loaded lady, and her status among the nouveau riche contrasts sharply with Wangzi’s struggles. The fleeting intersection of these disparate classes hardly exposes the tender divide that is increasingly a concern for the party and national stability, however. Maybe we’ll just have to wait for Kung Fu Hip Hop 3.
HK Title: 精舞門2
Dir: Bowie Lau Bo-Yin 劉寶賢
Cast: Berlin Chen Bolin 陳柏霖; Michael Tse Tin-Wah 謝天華; Zhou Qiqi 周奇奇; Wangzi 王子; Shi Tianqi 石天琦; Cheng Yi 程伊; Lin Zhenghao 林正豪; Lu Xiner 鲁昕儿; Chen Jia陈加; Blackston James
Time: 89 min