When crystal-voiced singing recruit Red (Mag Lam) steps into manager Man’s (Chapman To) office, she compares it, favorably, to a deluxe karaoke room. “Well, today’s Hong Kong singers sing like karaoke amateurs,” he responds. Point. Which is why entertainment conglomerate EEG’s involvement in this project might seem a little curious. At a glance, DIVA is a movie that peels back the glittery façade of Hong Kong’s music industry. That makes the label that most successfully packages fresh-faced teens of dubious talent (see Twins, Boyz, William Chan, Edison Chen, et al) the unlikeliest candidate to turn the cameras on itself.
But lest you think EEG has entered a new era of transparency, it has too much vested in the project to make a meaningful statement on the industry. Besides relative newcomer Lam, the film features Joey Yung, the brightest star in EEG’s galaxy, essentially doubling as herself. Yung plays J, Hong Kong’s top singer who’s suffocating under her overmanaged life. When she gets the chance to go off radar during a performance in the Mainland, she happily slips away. J finds refuge in the arms of a blind masseuse (Hu Ge) and warms up to life beyond the frenzy of superstardom.
In contrast, Red willingly climbs into the rabbit hole when Man plucks her from a dead-end string of nightclub stints and kids’ costume parties. Lam, who’s had her own ups and downs in her short career, thankfully avoids playing her character as the wide-eyed ingenue. Red knows that her powerhouse voice is meant for something bigger and is willing to give the entertainment industry a try, but her boyfriend (Carlos Chan) resents the demands her newfound fame places on their relationship.
It’s something the young couple might have had a serious talk about beforehand, but this movie doesn’t trust its characters enough to work through the fussy details. As a result, conflicts in DIVA end up feeling manufactured in order to make a broader comment on entertainment’s dark side, in that there is one. Passing references to sexual exploitation, for example, get brushed aside once the point has been made (maybe to sidestep EEG’s own allegations of abuse).
And where the movie lacks in script, it fails to make up for with acting. Yung is more charismatic in her concert making-of videos than she is here. Though the film takes pains to present J as a normal person, the actress translates her character’s natural fears and frustrations into a series of disinterested gazes. Her story takes up much of the screen time but never seems to be the film’s focus. Meanwhile, Lam’s part may be less emotionally taxing, but she manages to do more with it. To’s morally loose manager breathes the most life into the film. Despite Man’s many manipulations, the actor still generates good will by the the sheer effectiveness with which Man slides through his schemes and demands.
Absent great depth of character, however, the more unseemly aspects of the industry lack the weight to make this movie an industry exposé, which is probably not what EEG was counting on anyway. There are hints that this might be a graduated version of Diva…Ah Hey!, a 2003 production that also starred EEG hitmakers and commented on the appearance of talent. In the end, that might be what Hong Kong entertainment does best these days. After all, the most memorable part of this film are the excellent visuals. The camera catwalks through the scenes, and this is a movie clearly shot by people who know how to make stars look good.
“Chasing Kites” (追風箏的風箏) by Joey Yung and Mag Lam:
“Are U Okay” by Mag Lam:
“Like Love Songs” (如情歌) by Mag Lam:
Prod: Chapman To 杜汶澤
Dir: Heiward Mak 麥曦茵
Writer: Heiward Mak 麥曦茵
Cast: Joey Yung 容祖兒; Mag Lam 林欣彤; Chapman To 杜汶澤; Hu Ge 胡歌; Carlos Chan 陳家樂; Bonnie Sin 冼色麗; Fiona Sit 薛凱琪; Wilfred Lau 劉浩龍; William So 蘇永康; Kara Hui惠英紅; Matt Chow 鄒凱光; Venus Wong 王敏奕
Time: 102 min
Lang: Cantonese, Mandarin
Country: Hong Kong