Diva…Ah Hey (下一站…天后)

diva ah hey

On the face of it, this looks like another early Twins hit – frivolous, chirpy, forgettable, and while it’s certainly not a soaring achievement, you’ll be forgiven for remembering it fondly. Besides spawning a massive hit song of the same title, Diva…Ah Hey! turns out to be a crowd pleaser that actually has some positive things to say about Hong Kong’s teenage girls.

For starters, Ah Hey (Charlene Choi) is not a diva at all. The only child of a fishmonger (Lam Suet), she seeks to make her mark in the world by dipping her toes in the rough waters of the entertainment industry. She has an in with Harry (Jordan Chan), a family friend who manages rising star Shadow (Niki Chow). The company doesn’t have the resources to support new artists, so Ah Hey patiently bides her time, happy to tag along as Harry’s assistant and learn the ropes.

The gloss of show business quickly fades, and Ah Hey learns that few things are what they seem. Things come to a head when the company forces Shadow into a singing career, something explicitly written out of her contract. She can’t carry a note and instead harbors secret ambitions of being a stand-up comedian. In frustration, Harry enlists Ah Hey to sing in Shadow’s place. But the gamble backfires when the record becomes a hit, and they are forced to continue with the deception.

Most people would cry foul, and then take the story to the gossip rags. But Ah Hey is a thoroughly decent person, kind beyond her years. She sees the quartet, which includes driver Wing (Shawn Yue), as a family, and wants them not just to coexist peacefully but to love and support one another. Though Ah Hey knows she’s giving up her chance at a singing career, she’s willing to take a backseat if it means helping Shadow.

Choi is not a great actress here, but her energy and youthful optimism overcome what she lacks in experience. Ah Hey is a delightful character, and Choi turns her idealism into something refreshing and contagious. Her friends truly take her words to heart and care for her and each other. The relationship she shares with Harry is especially pleasing to watch, and I enjoyed the way Chan showed a fatherly affection to her beneath his gruff exterior. For once, a young woman is taken seriously and her hopefulness treated with honesty rather than mocking.

The warm hearted characters are a curious contrast to the plot itself, however, which functions almost as an exposé on the entertainment industry. On its own, the story is about Ah Hey’s good nature triumphing over a duplicitous business. But as a product of EEG, one wonders if the starlet factory is shooting itself in the foot or just telling it like it is. Judging by the movie, the system looks terrible. The company cuts down its young artists, molding them into whatever product they want to push instead of nurturing their talents. At every level, business concerns trump those of music and art. Others also prove that kindness is a liability and that secrecy and selfishness are the regular tools of the trade.

One might accuse EEG, known for their aggressive maneuvering, of employing similar tactics. A quick look at their lineup of so-called singers and actors at the time will show you how invested they were in developing talent. (I mean, have you heard Yumiko Cheng sing?) It’s also ironic that years later, Chow would also record an album that, if we are honest, might have used a little help from Ah Hey. There’s a lot of blame to go around for the miserable state of Hong Kong entertainment, and it’s not clear if the movie is trying to be subversive and attack from within. Maybe the point is it doesn’t matter; Diva…Ah Hey has given the city an absorbing 100 minutes and a durable karaoke song.

“Diva…Ah Hey” (or literally “Next Stop…Tin Hau”) by Twins:

“Chauffeur” (“司機”) by Shawn Yue:

Released: 2003
Prod: Joe Ma 馬偉豪; Ivy Kong 江玉儀
Dir: Joe Ma 馬偉豪
Writer: Joe Ma 馬偉豪; Matt Chow 鄒凱光; Sunny Chan 陳詠燊
Cast: Charlene Choi 蔡卓妍; Jordan Chan 陳小春; Niki Chow 周麗琪; Shawn Yue 余文樂; Chapman To 杜汶澤; Lam Suet 林雪; Belinda Hamnett 韓君婷; Lo Meng 羅莽; Wyman Wong 黃偉文; Hyper BB 茜利妹; Hayama Hiro 葉山豪; Courtney Wu 利沙華
Time: 100 min
Lang: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014